My review is based upon my listening experience with this CD as well as a comparative view which I have gained through listening to a wide range of different classical piano CD's.
Sound quality - 5* Excellent. The recording is (true) digital and the piano sounds terrific.
Pianist - 5* He does a wonderful job representing Adams' work and I would feel hard pressed to find a better pianist to do such a quality job with this repertoire.
Value - 4* Four tracks is not the largest CD, but 2 of these tracks (1 and 4) together are 40 minutes long. Hence, this is an album you may want to listen to when you have the time to dedicate 15 or 25 minutes per track. Total play time is about 52 minutes. The price is great, however, so don't hesitate over the # of tracks because there is plenty of music contain within.
Listening Experience (Subjective)
1. Phygian gates - 5* A layered, complex piano piece that captivates the attentive listener. Melodies are somewhat sparce, but the outpouring of supporting notes drives this rhythmic and ambient music. The variations which Adams builds in his material is a joy to keep track of. There are many climaxes followed by soft troughs and the transitions are made all the more natural by this album's capable pianist. Ranging from quiet subtleties to romping dissonances, this 25-minute epic piano piece attempts to take the listener from peak to peak, and succeeds in its own unique way. The last chord is so prominent on this recording that one can feel the strings' reverberations changing as they come to a halt.
2. American Berserk - 1* The name is quite representative of what the listener can expect to hear. My least favorite track on this CD because of the ostentatious use of dissonances and the 'rudeness' of the discombobulated bass line. What this piano piece represents may be more valuable than how it sounds. The listener will judge for himself, however.
3. China Gates - 5* A wonderful display of ear-pleasing patterns that are transformed throughout by a periodic low bass response. The listener may feel a sense of the enigmatic when soaking in these harmonically pleasing phrases.
4.Hallelujah Junction - 4 1/2* What is wonderful in tracks 1 and 3 is brought back in track 4. Thickly layered in ambient and harmonically-rich notes, this piece is kept active by a consistently moving treble and a sublter bass line. There is a constant flurry of notes that is invested wealthily in John Adams' uniquely busy rhythmic style. The least interesting part comes a little less than halfway through the piece when a belligerent, though rhythmically consistent, bass line takes over. It is followed by a subtler part that is contrasted with a better bass line. Transformaton after transformation, this particular work peaks at about 12 minutes in with memorable phrasing and concrete (apparent) melodies that are transfused in changing and repeating harmonies. The very end is not as transluscent as the majority of the piece.
All in all, know the style of music you would like to listen to and/or would like experiment with. John Adams is a completely different kind of composer than the ones that wrote music 100, 200, or 300 years ago. It may take a maturer listener to really understand the nature of his music, or at the very least, his music may be less accessible than the easily-lovable classics. His music benefits from patience and an appreciation of patterns, if you have both, then the listening experiece is magnified to a great extent. Try this album even if you are ambivalent about it, the price is likely not to make much of an impact on your wallet/purse and you may find yourself a gem.