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Reviews: Adams: Harmonielehre, Short Ride in a Fast Machine - Michael Tilson Thomas

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Reviews: 3

Site review by Castor March 2, 2012
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by Fitzcaraldo215 February 8, 2012 (12 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
John Adams' Harmonielehre was premiered with the SFO in 1985, conducted by Edo de Wart in a landmark Nonesuch recording in the heyday of musical "minimalism". If Philip Glass was a “classicist” among minimalists, Adams with this work showed himself to be more of a “romanticist”. Indeed the work is often of a full and rich orchestral texture coupled with a sparer minimalist outline that takes us on an emotional journey through three movements.

Musical development is very sophisticated rhythmically, tonally and harmonically and with the shifting palette of its orchestration from full orchestra to ensemble and solo passages. Some are reminded in the slow movements of a Mahler or Bruckner adagio or perhaps at times of the recurring rhythms in the scherzo of the Bruckner 6th Symphony. Others may perceive passages with similarity to movie background music, like perhaps a Bernard Hermann score for Citizen Kane or Vertigo. Or, maybe something more like a good, moody Hollywood, black-and-white tear jerker from the 1940's. Except, there is no recognizable development of melodic themes, as such. There is nothing discernible to whistle after you have heard it.

That it parallels the sweep and varied emotional path of traditional symphonic movements or tone poems is made interesting by the virtual lack of recognizable melody or lyricism. Some have suggested a good-natured satirical or tongue-in-cheek aspect to the work, and I agree. It always brings a smile to my face as I hear the work’s originality. And, though its title is perhaps based on Arnold Schoenberg's influential treatise on his theory of harmony from 1910, the Adams work comes across as something much more accessible than most of Schoenberg’s music. It invariably brings audiences to their feet in admiration and enjoyment. It is definitely a satisfying and fun musical ride. But, caution. You may want to turn your volume down a bit before starting because the opening is shall we say, rather BOLD!

Speaking of rides, the disk also includes Adams' Short Ride In a Fast Machine. This was premiered by conductor MTT with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1986. It is an interesting orchestral short piece that was inspired by a thrilling but also harrowing ride in a Lamborghini. The almost metronomic rhythm of the wood block sets the minimalist tone.

One is hard pressed with works like these to comment on interpretation or realization. Suffice it to say they are flawlessly and excitingly played by the SFO under MTT. Adams was composer in residence with the SFO for many years and resides across the Bay in Berkeley, so I expect this is as definitive a performance as one is likely to get.

This is certainly the best sounding recording to date of these works. The multichannel sound before a live audience is superb, providing excellent, crystal-clear imaging of the complex orchestral forces in the shifting tapestry between full orchestra and smaller ensemble play. Dynamics are awesome at times. I have not been in Davies Hall myself, but, as with the best Mch SACD's, we hear a very plausible and life-like, three-dimensional image of the orchestra in the hall, with surround speakers disappearing, as they should, in a properly set up system. Sorry, I do not do stereo where the Mch version is available.

This disk is therefore most highly recommended. I think most will really enjoy it.

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Review by hiredfox April 1, 2012 (6 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Sometimes more is less. The more one searches for words to describe this disc the less adequately they seem able to convey it's sheer dynamic intensity, vitality and sensory shock. "Shock and Awe" about sums it up for this listener.

It seems to me that this is a benchmark recording in every respect. My first exposure to Harmonielehre has instantaneously captured my heart. Wonderful music without being in the least bit idiosyncratic. Aided by arguably some of the finest orchestral playing yet captured on disc at live performance.

A wonderful disc, brilliantly played and exceptionally well recorded in emotion-dripping DSD. Long, long may this orchestra do it's own thing in this way. They've not produced a bad disc yet and just when you thought they could not better their own unmatched standards of recording excellence, they go and reset the damn bar all over again. A 12/10 performance all round.

Get thee to a record store today without delay!

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