JOHN ADAMS: Harmonielehre; Short Ride in a Fast Machine – San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/ Michael Tilson Thomas – SFS Media multichannel SACD SFS 0053, 47:11 [3/13/12] (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:
The latest SF Symphony SACD features a John Adams work which was commissioned by the orchestra and premiered in 1985, when Adams was their first Composer-in-Residence. Adams used the title of Schoenberg’s treatise on music, even though he had not followed Schoenberg’s 12-tone system of composing. The symphony melds tonal late-Romantic Mahleresque material with modern minimalism—the latter to a greater degree than Adam’s more recent works.
The first of its three sections has no subtitle of its own. It is a 17-minute movement with a long “yearning” section in its midst. The second portion is titled “The Amfortas Wound,” and is a moody piece inspired by Jung’s referral to the king whose wounds could not be healed. The final section of the three is “Meister Eckhardt and Quackie,” in which Adams imagined his young daughter at the time perched on the shoulder of the medieval spiritual teacher and hovering among the heavenly bodies. It’s fine to have this important Adams work in hi-res surround for the first time.
The short fanfare which concludes the program with a bang was provoked by a ride in a fast expensive racing car which Adams experienced. It is urged along by a non-stop wood block and hurls itself with great energy towards it’s noisy conclusion. Immediately after hearing it, I had to compare it to Adams’ The Chairman Dances, on the CCn’C SACD (01912) Shifting Landscapes, with Kristian Järvi and the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra. It is one of the most exciting and well-recorded contemporary works in hi-res surround, and the similarities to Short Ride in a Fast Machine are most interesting. Sonically they are equals.
This Rolling Stones continue their 60+ year ascendancy with a worthwhile vinyl singles/e.p. collector’s set.