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Michael Cameron
Fanfare, May 2009

So singular has been Samuel Adler’s contribution to the training of countless American composers that his own well-crafted compositions are not given nearly the attention they deserve. With long stints on the faculty rosters of Eastman and Juilliard, he has nevertheless remained a prolific composer, and we can only hope that recordings such as this will point more performers in his direction as a source of fine programming material.

Three Piano Preludes neatly encapsulates Adler’s methods while demonstrating his continued creative prowess late in life, as do three other works on the disc written after 2000. These are character studies in the manner of similar works by Debussy and others, with cascading water depicted in the first, dream states in the second, and an ancient French poetic structure in the third. Here and elsewhere, there is no traditional tonality as such, but certain pitches, cells, or textures catch the ear and help structure the works.

Four Composer Portraits is another set of piano miniatures with specific inspirations, in this case a group of fellow composers roughly of Adler’s generation. At first, the notion of close mimicry of the style of multiple composers in a single work didn’t strike me as an especially novel concept, but on further consideration I can’t think of another instance of this particular method of homage. Each movement also uses letters from the composers’ names, a more well-tested form of tribute. Hearing the pointillist serialism of Babbitt so closely juxtaposed with the lyricism of Rorem both rendered by a third party is quite a clever and diverting parlor trick.

His Piano Concerto No. 3, like many of his works, unfolds with greater brevity than one might expect in a work so labeled, spanning just 11 minutes in one movement. There is an intriguing truncated lyricism at work in the first few minutes, as the string orchestra trades phrases with the soloist in melodic fragments that are interrupted with other motives soon after their introduction. The Bowling Green Philharmonia under Emily Freeman Brown partners well with pianist Laura Melton, the fine soloist here and in the other keyboard works.

Not only are the seven works of uniformly high merit, but Adler not surprisingly composes idiomatically for his players, without contributing any particular novel techniques or original timbral combinations. The nearest approach to extended techniques is heard in Soundings for alto saxophone and piano, which asks soloist John Sampen to augment his virtuosic, bravura traversal with tongue and key clicks. Adler is fortunate to have other fine artists at his disposal as well, including flutist Carol Wincenc in the traditionally structured Flute Sonata, soprano Elizabeth Farnum in the song cycle Of Musique, Poetrie, Art, and Love, and percussionist Roger B. Schupp in the busy and intricate Pasiphae.

Uncle Dave Lewis, February 2009

Samuel Adler is a known quantity to many insiders in American classical music as a composer, conductor, and educator; he taught at the Eastman School for three decades and his book, The Study of Orchestration, is a standard text used in music education. Adler’s mantel is crowded with the many distinctions he has earned, including one for the Pulitzer Prize for music. However, to the man on the street, and even to some reasonably well-informed classical listeners, Adler is a nonentity, and that’s in spite of the fact that his music has been frequently issued on recordings going back well into the era of LPs. This Naxos "American Classics" CD, Of Musique, Poetrie, Art and Love, is the second disc of Adler’s music to appear on Naxos, the other being an item in its Milken Archive Series. This consists of several pieces drawn from Adler’s later efforts from among his huge inventory of more than 400 works, and the main constant in this project is pianist Laura Melton, the only musician to play in all seven selections.

When it came to serial techniques, Adler never really threw the baby out with the bathwater; while he uses them, Adler never found it necessary to shy away from tonal referencing or even tonality itself, preferring to mix it up. However, his work often has a distanced quality, partly owing to his harmonic neutrality and also to his preference for working in very short sections that turn over rapidly; one gets the impression that he prefers not to develop melodic ideas, no matter how strong, to their full term. He certainly knows how to write for the flute, and his Sonata for Flute and Piano (2004), composed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Juilliard School where he has taught since 1997, is the highlight of the disc, as is Carol Wincenc’s expert interpretation of this fancy, glittering, virtuosic piece. The Four Composer Portraits (2001–2002) is a very effective suite of exercises in combining his own idiom with those of four prominent composer friends—Milton Babbitt, Ned Rorem, Gunther Schuller, and David Diamond—and the Rorem piece is particularly affecting and poignant, with Adler intersecting more broadly stated serial material with the arcing lyricism more readily associated with Rorem, not to mention the slyly jazzy feel of the one for Schuller…the performers here are expert and excellent, particularly Melton and down to the Bowling Green Philharmonia under Emily Freeman Brown, who collaborate with Melton in realizing Adler’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (2003).

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