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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2013

…Adams’s tunes have a wonderful forward momentum, and in Shaker Loops, especially, a strong rhythmic beat.

The Naxos engineers capture all of the shaking and trembling and pulse of the music…in one of their very best recordings. They miked the orchestra fairly closely, producing excellent definition and impact. © 2013 Classical Candor Read complete review




Penguin Guide, January 2009

If you are seeking an introduction to the music of John Adams, you cannot better this splendidly played anthology from Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, vividly recorded within an ideal acoustic. The whizzing Short Ride in a Fast Machine immediately has hit potential but finds its counterpart in the touchingly gentle Berceuse élégiaque, while the moving lament of the Walt Whitman civil war Wound Dresser shows just how naturally Adams writes for the voice. It is finely sung by Nathan Gunn against the simplest orchestral backcloth, with strings dominating. But the highlight of the disc is Adams’s early (1978) masterpiece, heard here in a 1983 revision, Shaker Loops. Here he draws on the minimalist style of Steve Reich and totally transforms it into a four-movement piece of real lyrical appeals and endless aural fascination. This is now by far its finest performance on disc, with the climax of the third-movement ‘loops and Verses’ quite riveting.





David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), January 2005

Naxos' new recording of John Adams' "The Wound Dresser," for baritone and small ensemble, comes at a time when we would do well to consider the costs of war, especially a war so distant, so vague, with so many obscure casualties (obscure to us, that is) as the war in Iraq.

Walt Whitman's poem, the text for this haunting piece, is a free-verse recollection of his days as a nurse tending wounded Union soldiers. It might easily have been sentimentalized. Adams sets a slow tempo and creates a long vocal line that moves mostly in fifths (a yearning interval), a kind of meditative chant interrupted by sudden bursts of anger.

The unsteady tonal center -- Adams' strings seem to search for a melody -- takes us into a kind of dream state as the speaker recollects the horrors of the hospital ward ("Poor crazed hand, tear not the bandage away!") and the flashes of life in the dying, and in him. "I am faithful, I do not give out." Wound-dressing, for Whitman, is a kind of lovemaking. ...

The disc also includes "Short Ride on a Fast Machine" (1986), a fun ride in the brass section, and "Shaker Loops" (1978), a founding document of "minimalism." Marin Alsop, who performs and records so much American music in Britain, leads the Bournemouth Symphony with forceful intelligence.



Jerry Bowles
Sequenza21.com, January 2005

Ever wonder if, in say 100 years or so, there will be 30 recorded versions of the most popular pieces of this age, like, for example, there are at least that many versions of Beethoven's symphonies around today. If that remains the pattern then John Adams' Shaker Loops will be one of those much recorded pieces. It is one of the most popular contemporary music pieces and a cornerstone work of one of the definable movements of the late 20th. century, minimalism. Its elegance is in its gentleness and precision of action.

This latest, first-rate version on Naxos, comes to us from the baton of Marin Alsop, one of the very few women conductors in top level orchestras of the world. She and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra bring fresh ideas to this reading and recording of Shaker Loops and three other works by Adams.

From the beginning of Shaker Loops you know that things are going to be different in the hands of Ms. Alsop. The entrance of the orchestra crescendos from a murmur, ever so slowly upward, like a forest or a city coming to life. The terseness of the strings creates a palpable tension and the layering of more outspoken voices over the undercurrent is a dramatic effect; alluring and captivating. As contrasted with the benchmark St. Luke's Orchestra version with Adams himself conducting, here Ms. Alsop creates the effect of undulating currents almost throughout the piece, layered with dynamic effect of line, from loud to soft and soft to loud, even in the microcosm of the dynamic attack of single notes. The middle section undulates, becoming almost an ethereal cloud. Murmuring, it is not exactly clear, but an aural transport nonetheless. All and all it's an interesting take on this seminal work, one that merits several careful listenings and thought.

Short ride is clear and concise, angular and urban. A NYC taxi ride. The Wound Dresser and Berceuse are welcome additions rounding it off. An excellent offering at a bargain price.



Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, January 2005

Reich's almost mechanical brand of minimalism can have more passing technical interest than enduring emotional or sensual appeal. Yet this disc presents the American composer at his most organic and attractive.

Reich's famous quartet-plus-tape piece, "Different Trains," and prize-winning Triple Quartet appear here in expanded versions for string orchestra. . . . the Triple Quartet only gains in allure with the lush orchestral sonority. "The Four Sections," though, is perhaps Reich's most sensuous large-scale work. Rather than sounding like clockwork, David Robertson's sympathetic performances seem textured and alive, with the recording lending his orchestra a helpful glow.



Pierre Ruhe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 2005

The score to Rameau's last opera, "Les Boreades," was written (and shelved) in 1763 and only rediscovered in 1982. Alphise is a queen who must marry within her class. Her choices: a couple of suitors, both duds, from the clan of the harsh god of the North Wind, Boreas. Naturally, she's in love with a mortal. (Happy ending: He turns out to be Apollo's son.)

Although the conductor isn't seen in "Les Boreades," he is the core of the performance. Buffalo-born and Harvard-educated, William Christie is dean of the French early-music scene. As usual, he draws crisp, nuanced, immaculate playing from his Les Arts Florissants ensemble, supporting energized singers and dancers.

As Alphise, Barbara Bonney -- who sings regularly with the ASO -- has a light lyric soprano that sometimes strains to fit the heavier dramatic vocal needs, although by conviction she inhabits the role.

Her true love, Abaris, is Paul Agnew singing beautifully (again). The supporting cast is likewise assured.

What lingers here, aside from the astonishing variety of Rameau's music, is stage director Robert Carsen's painterly, understated production. The stage is a field of bright flowers, torn up by the followers of Boreas. Later, falling leaves, or rain showers, wash down on the singers. (The horrible North Wind brings bad weather as it blows.)

The buttoned-up Boreades are dressed as fascists, wearing severe dark trench coats. The Apollonians hang loose in sunny linens. La La La Human Steps is the name of the athletically classical dance troupe, mixing ballet en pointe with angular Madonna voguing.

If Rameau is indeed making a comeback, these sorts of enchanting productions -- classical yet modern -- will get much of the credit. In a post-opera "making of" film about "Les Boreades," Bonney delivers the best marketing line: "I do love the music of Rameau. It's very sexy music."

logy, had a successful debut in 1691 and was subsequently revived.

Then the score disappeared for nearly 300 years until an American musicologist uncovered it in 1970 in the Library of Congress. In 2003, the Boston Early Music Festival staged the first production of ‘‘Ariadne’’ since the 18th century at the Cutler Majestic Theater with most of the cast heard on the three-CD recording made at Radio Bremen in northern Germany.

‘‘Ariadne’’ tells the story of the ‘‘beautiful and faithful’’ daughter of the King of Minos on Crete. She’s initially in love with the apparently doomed Athenian Prince Theseus who must do battle with the fearsome Minotaur. However, after slaying the monster Theseus



Wilma Salisbury
Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 2005

In 1988, American composer Reich wrote "Different Trains" for string quartet, prerecorded strings and a tape of voices speaking brief phrases relating to American and European trains before, during and after World War II. In 2000, he completed a new version of the dark piece for large string orchestra. Although the orchestral version might make a stunning impression in the concert hall, it sounds harsh in the rough performance by Robertson and the French orchestra. By contrast, the musicians perform the repetitive rhythms and complex textures of Reich's "The Four Sections" with bright timbres and steely attacks.



Wilma Salisbury
Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 2005

"Short Ride in a Fast Machine," one of Adams' most frequently performed orchestral pieces, explodes with rhythmic energy under Alsop's baton. "Shaker Loops," too, surges with the forward drive of the composer's chugging rhythms and repetitive motifs. Adams' introspective side is represented in the calming stillness of "Berceuse elegiaque" and the lyrical setting of Walt Whitman's "The Wound Dresser," a profoundly moving poem beautifully sung by baritone Gunn. Although the strings of the Bourmenouth Symphony Orchestra sound thin, the ensemble is sparked by the performances of an excellent concertmaster and fine principal players.



Anthony Tommasini
Sunday NYTimes, January 2005

WHEN several major American orchestras found themselves simultaneously looking for music directors some years back, the name of the American conductor Marin Alsop was noticeably missing from the shortlists. Though Ms. Alsop had long been hailed as a dynamic conductor with an adventurous spirit and a palpable connection to the music of her time, and though she had achieved excellent results as the head of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, you suspected that the tradition-bound major orchestras were simply not ready to take the step of appointing a woman as music director.

But overseas, the respected Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was. In 2002 Ms. Alsop became its music director: the first woman to head any major British orchestra. Today, things could not be going better in Bournemouth. The orchestra sounds great, the players are energized, and the recordings they have been making for Naxos are exciting, including this impressive program.

The breathless performance of "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" vibrantly conveys the quality of John Adams's music that the conductor Simon Rattle has likened to "a light aircraft, flying rather fast and close to the ground." The accounts of the wistful "Berceuse Élégiaque" and the ecstatic "Shaker Loops," a de facto four-movement symphony, are incisive and bracing.

Best of all, perhaps, is Ms. Alsop's intense yet magisterial performance of "The Wound-Dresser," a sensitive setting of Walt Whitman's poetic remembrance of serving as a nurse during the Civil War. The soloist is the fine American baritone Nathan Gunn, whose warm and virile voice provides comfort as you contemplate Whitman's heartbreaking words.

This album makes me eager to hear Ms. Alsop's recordings of the complete Brahms symphonies, due from Naxos this year. It's about time she is given a chance to show what she can do in repertory staples.



Gwyn Parry-Jones
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"This excellent disc gives the listener a welcome chance to get a feeling for the way John Adams’ music evolved over a period of ten years. Crucially, this decade saw the conception and completion of his first opera, ‘Nixon in China’, an experience which had a profound effect on his musical language.

Shaker Loops finds Adams emerging from the shadow of Steve Reich. It is a typically ingenious blend of minimalism and New England energy – even to the punning title, which plays on a musical term for trills, ‘shakes’, and the early religious sect known as the Shakers. The result is a small masterpiece for string orchestra, and as so often with Adams, it is the surprise with which one finds oneself reminded of other not obviously related composers that is a major part of the fascination of the music. The opening, for example, calls to my mind the buzzing strings of Sibelius, e.g. in the finale of the 5th Symphony. Later, the harmonics which proliferate like icicles in the texture of this movement are a magical touch. The strings of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play superbly.

The cantata The Wound Dresser on track 2 is, for me, a more problematic piece. It is beautifully and sensitively performed by the baritone Nathan Gunn, but I worry about Adams’ choice of text. It is taken from a poem by Walt Whitman, and records that writer’s experiences as a nurse during the civil war. Whitman describes unflinchingly the terrible wounds he saw and treated; an example is "…from the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood…" – I’ll spare you more, but suffice it to say this is a very different Whitman from the one known to lovers of the Sea Symphony or Toward the Unknown Region of Vaughan Williams.

Does this kind of text really bear setting to music? I am not convinced, though I would not for one moment doubt Adams’ deep sincerity or seriousness, and there is indeed a terrible beauty about this music, full of compassion as it is. A moving yet very uncomfortable experience – which may well be precisely what the composer intended.

As so often with these Naxos compilations, the programming of the music is a thing of elegance in itself, so that the piece that follows gently lifts the deep gloom of The Wound-Dresser. This is Adams lovely arrangement of Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque, a lullaby-like piano piece, which Adams has set in such a way as to emphasise its strange dream-like quality. Again beautifully performed by Marin Alsop and her forces. (A surprising omission is that the liner notes don’t even mention this piece).

The disc opens with arguably Adams’ most celebrated work, Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The performers give this a crisp rhythmic lift-off, and I suspect that, apart from anything else, this is probably the fastest performance on CD (please don’t write if I’m wrong!) The textures are certainly admirably clear, with the advantage that one can hear that wood-block tapping away the whole time, so vital if one is to enjoy the constant regrouping over the basic pulse. And, for the first time, I relished the change at the half-way stage to a deeper toned wood-block – from ‘tick-tick’ to ‘tock-tock’ as it were. Such a simple touch, but strangely thrilling.

A disc to prize for Adams’ growing cohorts of admirers, and an ideal introduction for the curious."



Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"John Adams, the holy spirit of the trinity of minimalist composers that includes Philip Glass and Steve Reich is a truly American phenomenon. He grew up in high society New England, received an Ivy League education, and then, at the tail-end of the hippie generation, headed west for San Francisco to escape his upbringing and find his own voice. Find it he did, for his is one of the most original voices in modern music, and his form of minimalism has gone well beyond the clichéd style of his two famous colleagues to evolve into something fresh and intelligent not often heard in contemporary music.

In this collection of orchestral works Marin Alsop proves once again that she is one of the leading conductors in the world. She is the first to get beyond the regrettably novel moniker of "woman conductor" to take a rightful place in the pantheon of simply "fine musicians." She leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra here with clarity and precision, gaining from them a taut sense of rhythm and ensemble, and ravishing string colors.

Opening with Short Ride in a Fast Machine, we are off to the races with the type of energetic, forward-moving music that is the signature trait of Mr. Adams. Set over a wood block ostinato, this piece is compelling in its thrust and appreciable for its well-calculated brevity. Unlike some of his colleagues (ahem, Mr. Glass) Adams knows when to shut up, and does so to blindingly good effect.

Up next is the splendid Wound Dresser, set for baritone solo and orchestra, to texts adapted from Walt Whitman. Whitman was a nurse during the Civil War, and some of his poetry that relates his wartime experiences can be excruciating. Here, Adams adapts passages from Whitman to make for an achingly melancholy portrait of the horrors of war, and in particular a war before modern medicine. The texts are graphic, and sometimes disturbing, and the unrelenting sadness of the vocal line and the calm accompaniment from the orchestra can at times be quite emotionally taxing. I dare say that this is one of the best war pieces, and definitely one of the best settings of Whitman since Ned Rorem’s War Scenes of 1969. Nathan Gunn is superb both as a singer, whose tone is gorgeous and rich, but also as a communicator, whose enunciation is impeccable and his sincerity of delivery is spellbinding.

The Berceuse élégiaque is a lovely and haunting work. It is proof again that Adams is capable of reaching beyond the box of "minimalism" to deliver a convincing, original work while never really abandoning his trademark compositional devices.

The major piece in this program is the twenty-six minute Shaker Loops, which is very much a symphony and a tone poem rolled into one. Adams intertwines several concepts, namely, a literal gesture of shaking, a looping or repeating of a musical event in homage to electronic composition, and the habits and ceremonies of the Shaker religious sect. In sum, it makes for very convincing listening. Adams has created a sound portrait that spans epochs and lifestyles, modernity and age-old tradition, and the classical and avant-garde to create a very successful work of art.

The Bournemouth play to perfection, and as evidenced by this recording, we have a great deal to which to look forward from this superb American conductor. Sound quality is outstanding, notes by Daniel Felsenfeld are concise and well constructed, texts are included; my goodness for what more could you ask? Highly recommended on all fronts."



Calum MacDonald
BBC Music Magazine, December 2004

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Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, December 2004

"The Wound-Dresser, a much darker (and slower) setting of Walt Whitman, is excellently sung by Nathan Gunn, with fine solo trumpet-playing from the orchestra."



Matthew Rye
The Telegraph, November 2004


Andrew Farach-Colton
Gramophone, November 2004

"All in all, this vividly recorded, inexpensive disc should make a compelling introduction to Adams’ music."



John Quinn
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"Having already given us several excellent discs of Samuel Barber for Naxos, Marin Alsop now turns her attention to the music of another fellow American, John Adams.

How does one define Adams? In his liner note Daniel Felsenfeld states that Adams "has earned his place in the mighty triumvirate of American Minimalist composers alongside Philip Glass and Steve Reich." If one takes that statement at face value I would respectfully have to disagree. I mean no slight on either Glass or Reich; though Adams’ music speaks much more powerfully to me than does theirs, but that’s a subjective preference. Adams has gone way beyond minimalism and in the process has become a much richer composer (not in the monetary sense) and a much more interesting and communicative one. In his recent Penguin Companion to Classical Music Paul Griffiths describes Adams brilliantly as "a post-minimalist master of exuberance and intricacy." The adroitly-chosen programme of this CD gives us a glimpse of some of the stages on Adams’ evolutionary journey from minimalist beginnings.

The earliest piece, where minimalist influences are at their strongest, is Shaker Loops. As Mr. Felsenfeld points out, this work started off as a string quartet with the title Wavemaker. In this form it was withdrawn after a single performance. What is not mentioned in the note is Adams’ subsequent revision of the score into a string septet (3 violins, 1 viola, 2 cellos and a bass). This is the 1977 ‘edition’ which remains a completely valid version. What we have here is the 1983 re-working of the piece for full string orchestra, the form in which I strongly suspect it is most frequently heard nowadays.

Ms Alsop leads a quite splendid performance. The athletic, at times pounding "shaking" of the first section is very well done. I love Mr. Felsenfeld’s description of this section as "fast and wildly caffeinated." The eerie atmosphere of the second, more subdued episode is delivered very well and Ms Alsop also responds very acutely to the more serious introspection of the third part. The final section brings the work full circle with a revisiting of the idea, if not the material, of the opening "shaking." This very fine reading stands up very well in comparison with the composer’s own superb recording (on Nonesuch) though not even Alsop can match the truly formidable climax that Adams achieves in the third section just before the link into the final section.

Chronologically, the next work in the programme is A Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Adams has said of the title of the work: "You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?" Well, Marin Alsop has the top down and her foot firmly to the floor in this exhilarating reading of what is a tremendous showpiece. The recorded sound here is bright and in your face, very appropriately. The performance matches in quality the pioneering account by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony (Nonesuch) although the Nonesuch recording managed to combine brightness with just a little more bass depth than the Naxos engineers achieve. However, it’s a marvellous reading nonetheless and makes an ear-catching opening to the CD.

The Wound Dresser is one of Adams’ masterpieces. It’s a setting of part of a poem by Walt Whitman in which the poet describes his experiences as a nurse during the American Civil War. The text is pretty uncompromising and is not for the squeamish. I’m not certain what motivated Adams to write the piece. There’s been a lot of speculation that it is a response to the AIDS crisis. In the notes accompanying the composer’s own recording of the work the annotator points out that at the time of composition Adams’ mother was tending his father who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. And, of course, the work may also be inspired by a revulsion against violence. Whatever the inspiration, the music is deeply eloquent and moving. Mr. Felsenfeld rightly notes that Adams employs "admirable restraint". It’s a trait that I‘ve remarked on, before reading this comment, in reviewing recently Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls. It’s not all restrained. There’s a searing passage, featuring manic bugle calls between 11’00" and about 12’30" at the words "I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep". But for the most part the music is sombre and excess is tellingly avoided. The piece is, effectively, a soliloquy for baritone and orchestra.

In Nathan Gunn we have a superb soloist. The dignity and compassion of his singing suit the music to perfection. He has a rich, full tone and he employs just the right amount of vibrato. His diction is excellent. He is given first rate support by Marin Alsop and her Bournemouth players. The poignancy and passion of such passages as "Come, sweet death!" (8’46") and "some are so young, some suffer so much" (16’46") are beautifully delivered. There’s strong competition from Sanford Sylvan, for whom the work was conceived, singing with the composer conducting (Nonesuch). Sylvan has a lighter, slightly more forward baritone which some may feel suits the music even better. Personally, I wouldn’t be without either version. This is a masterly score and this newcomer is fully worthy of the quality of the music.

One word of warning. Naxos print the text of The Wound Dresser. Inexplicably, however, they’ve missed out the first stanza (nine lines). However, Gunn’s diction is so good that I don’t see this being a major inconvenience.

Oddly, the most recent work on the disc isn’t even mentioned in the notes. This is Adams’ arrangement for chamber orchestra of an orchestral work by Busoni. The original, his Op. 42, dates from 1909 and its full title is Berceuse élégiaque (des Mannes Wiegenlied am Sarge seiner Mutter) or Cradle Song (of the Man at his Mother’s Coffin). Here again, perhaps, we see evidence of Adams’ restraint in the face of suffering in that this sombre but subdued piece by Busoni clearly exerted a strong appeal to him. In a note accompanying his own 1995 recording Adams commented that the work is "of the most hushed intimacy. Here the cradle rocks with barely perceptible movement while the musical ‘narrator’ sings a song of dolorous, resigned sorrow." Adams’ own recording is very fine but by a short head I prefer Alsop’s version. The Adams performance is recorded a bit more closely and, dare I suggest it, perhaps Alsop exerts even more control over the dynamic range. In any event it is she that best conveys the "hushed intimacy". The Berceuse is a splendid homage by one composer to another and Naxos have very sensibly ordered the CD so that this work follows The Wound Dresser to which it is a most effective foil. Incidentally, in the heading to this review I’ve given the composition date as stated on the CD packaging. However, the documentation accompanying the Adams recording states that the Berceuse was first performed in November 1990 so I suspect that date may be the correct one.

All of Marin Alsop’s discs that I’ve heard to date have impressed me but I fancy that this disc may be her most important achievement to date in the studio. Quite apart from the excellence of the performances, all given good recorded sound, this CD offers an ideal and very inexpensive introduction to the music of one of the most interesting and stimulating composers currently before the public. For the newcomer to Adams’ music this is well-nigh ideal. Those who are already enthusiasts for his music should also add it to their collection, even if this involves duplication, for it is a top quality release. Urgently recommended."






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