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on 20 October 2006
John Adams' status as the premier living American composer is well-earned: he manages somehow to fuse an awareness of the time he is writing for and a real artistic integrity with the ability to write music of incredibly broad appeal . This CD provides a fantastic introduction to his work, performed with zeal , intensity and accuracy by a top-notch ensemble, with a first-rate conductor, in a world-beating concert hall. What more could you want?

The focal point of the disc is undoubtably Adams' masterpiece 'Harmonielehre', which fuses Minimalism's sense of drive and energy with the lush harmonies and langorous melodic lines of late Romanticism (hence the title, taken from a textbook on late Romantic harmony by none other than Arnold Schoenberg) - its jaw-dropping first chords provide one of the most arresting openings in contemporary music. Nonetheless, there is a well-chosen selection of other works by Adams on the disc too, which showcase the range and variety of his output. 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine', in particular, is a great little example of saying a lot in a very short time (the very opposite of what minimalism is often accused of). Overall, an excellent buy.
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on 6 January 2003
This is a highly enjoyable disc played with enthusiam and feeling by the CBSO under Simon Rattle.

Anyone who appreciates the more creative side of minimalism, and late romantic/early twentieth music should like this.

In Harmonielehre Adams opens his pulsating minimalist style up to the insights of late romantic music, achieving by the third (final)movement a beguiling luminous synthesis. This piece has a good range of expression and tempo and is a fine well rounded work.

I didn't find the Chairman dances to be up to the same standard: Adams' trademark PULSE is sustained throughout and it does get a bit wearing.

The disc has a great conclusion in the fanfare 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine', which begins optimistically before intimations of impending disaster and a devil may care finale. Such a pity that live performances in the U.K have repeatedly been cancelled as they have ended up coming just after disasters which would make the title appear too bad taste. Hear it Here!

2008 info - This disc is now also available in different packaging at a reduced price in EMI's Gramophone Classic Music Guide recommends series. Search for - John Adams Harmonielehre.
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A youngish Simon Rattle recorded this thrilling version of John Adams equally thrilling Harmonielehre in 1993, well in the middle of his tenure with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and it is a stunning, exhilarating ride.

My EMI classics version comes with disc notes which made my eyes and brain spin, , full of references to how Adams' piece nods to Schoenberg's writing on harmony, and tracing the Minimalist movement in the States, but these were not notes which spoke particularly to me.

I first heard this piece in a concert devoted to `minimalists' and though I'd gone for pieces by two of my favourites, Part and Glass, this was the piece that sang out to me.

What did make sense to me (both in the notes for that concert, and the liner notes here) is that the initial inspiration came from a dream which Adams had had, of a huge tanker rising out from the San Francisco Bay and taking flight.

The terror and the shock and the glory of this is there in the explosive beginning. I remember the first time I heard it, like some sort of rollercoaster punch to the gut, nearly lifting me out of my seat. There is so much beauty in the frequently returned to power of this waking kraken, roaring out of the deep. Perhaps the surprise of the piece though is the delicacy and grace, a musical line also arises and is sweet, flowing, lyrical. The arch of musical line and the brute force of pulse, shimmer, repetition and development, the little threads of change which I find so exciting in minimalism, seem to tussle, tangle and weave with each other. It's like a dialogue between grace and power, powerful grace, graceful power.

The second movement surrenders its opening completely to an expressive, expansive, unwinding, like coming free from gravitational pull. And curiously reminded me of the dreamy languor of Debussy, particularly L'Apres Midi d'un faun. But just when it seemed safe to drift dreamwards, Adams begins to wind everything up, and there's another kind of dialogue between dynamic tension, forward propulsion and the slow unwinding. I found this marvellous to listen to `in my body', like some kind of sympathetic nervous system/parasympathetic nervous system juxtaposition - heart speeds, heart slows, heart speeds, heart slows.

And then there is the third movement. Oh my. All shimmer, geometric, like light on the surface of water on a lake, with a running breeze creating an extraordinary visual effect. This movement seemed, at times, quite Glasslike, his kind of hypnotic bright shimmers, lulling and rocking the listener, and firing them up, little jolts of change of rhythm and musical line. And finally, power, energy as that tanker pulls out to the stars

A wonderful piece, both playful and sombre, filled with sunlight and crackling with thunder and electrical storm.

The additional pieces on this CD are the mischievous `The Chairman Dances', taking some music from Adams opera Nixon In China. It is subtitled `A Foxtrot for the Orchestra' and, yes, the listener rather wants to cavort and twirl! And it is happy/silly, like some of the early Penguin Café Orchestra - particularly, Telephone and Rubber Band, all wrapped up in a centre of dance orchestra stateliness.

The CD is completed by two fanfares, the first, Tromba Lantana is almost melancholic, introspective, and then the final, titled `Short Ride In A Fast Machine' is precisely that, another shot of high energy octane, a big shout of fun and celebration

This marvellous CD - both the execution of the pieces, and the programme itself, is a wonderful celebration/showcase of a composer who is so much more than merely a minimalist party liner.
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on 5 April 2013
I find much contemporary orchestral music to be to abstract but this cd is highly enjoyable and exciting. Sir Simon at his best.
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on 21 March 2015
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on 28 April 2016
The CD arrived promptly & was just what I wanted. Thanks. James
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on 17 September 2014
Sorry, this music is pure eclectizisme, but bad eclectizisme… Even that the radio oft switzerland, SRF 2 Kultur, has other opinion… and I ask my why. Normally modern contemporary music takes other ways, others and more creative!
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