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John Adams (b.1947)

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Adams, J: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

Adams, J: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

Opera with a libretto by June Jordan


Jeannette Friedrich, Lilith Gardell, Darius De Haas, Jonas Holst, Martina Muhlpointner, Markus Alexander Neisser & Kimako Xavier Trotman

The Band of the Holst-Sinfonietta, Klaus Simon

“John Adams's stylistic range is vast, yet even in such a diverse output, I Was Looking at the Ceilingand Then I Saw the Sky (1995) stands apart. Conceived, in the composer's words, as 'a Broadwaystyle show', it draws its musical inspiration from popular song, moving from doo-wop to gospel, from pop ballad to the blues. The text, a poetic piece of social and political commentary by June Jordan, introduces us to seven young Angelenos whose intertwined lives are transformed by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There's no recitative, no spoken dialogue; the story is told through song and ensemble. This posed a problem when Nonesuch issued a composer-conducted recording of excerpts in 1998, cutting seven of the 22 vocal numbers. Here, Naxos gives us the complete score.
It hard to state that the narrative flows a whole lot more smoothly when the show is heard in its entirety. There are still quite a few jarring gaps, although one certainly gets a better sense of the characters as well as a heightened sense of drama. Missing from the Nonesuch recording, for example, was the crucial post-earthquake scene involving Tiffany, Mike and Rick – the score's longest number.
As for the performance: the Freiburg-based Holst-Sinfonietta Band plays its intricate part with tightly coiled energy for conductor Klaus Simon; the mostly German cast copes reasonably well with the different American dialects (only Lilith Gardell's Tiffany fails to convince); and although the women's voices can turn shrill Adams Opera when pressed, all the singers sound fresh and youthful. Indeed, Martina Mühlpointner may not have the extraordinary tonal richness of Audra McDonald (Nonesuch) but her wideeyed rendition of 'Consuelo's Dream' – one of the piece's prettiest and most effective numbers – is also deeply affecting. Not all the songs in Ceiling/Sky are as successful as this one but I'd guess that there's enough here to make this daring experiment in American musical theatre attractive to more than just Adams's fans.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

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Naxos American Classics Opera Classics - 8669003-04

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Adams, J: Nixon in China

Adams, J: Nixon in China


Robert Orth, Maria Kanyova, Thomas Hammons, Marc Heller, Tracy Dahl, Chen-Ye Yuan, Melissa Malde, Julie Simson & Jennifer DeDominici

Colorado Symphony Orchestra & Opera Colorado Chorus, Marin Alsop

A longtime collaborator of John Adams and champion of his music, Marin Alsop directs this live recording of Opera Colorado’s 25th Anniversary Celebration production of Nixon in China, presented at Denver’s new Ellie Caulkins Opera House during the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention, and featuring an internationally recognized cast.

Alice Goodman’s epic libretto and John Adams’s distinctive music weave together a colourful fabric of actual events from President Nixon’s historic visit to the People’s Republic of China with intimate examinations of the opera’s real life characters.

The spectacle, drama, humor and pathos of this masterpiece remain as compelling today as when the opera was premièred in 1987.

“[The] performance, brilliantly conducted by Marin Alsop and delivered by a strong cast led by baritone Robert Orth in the title role… Alsop, a proven master of Adams’ style both early and late, led a dynamic performance… Conducting the Colorado Symphony, she shepherded her forces nimbly.” San Francisco Chronicle concert review

“…Alsop balances rhythmic drive with careful pointers to Adams's later, more lyrical achievements… Robert Orth gives a remarkable sung impression of the president's speaking voice… Tracy Dahl (Madame Mao) and Maria Kanyova (Pat) comfortably outshine their boyish predecessors.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2009

“Marin Alsop might not topple de Waart off his default top-spot, but she does provide a strikingly different performance that forms a worthy counterpoint to his...here you hear the machinery of Adams’s writing: bright, alert, lucid, occasionally thin, but brilliantly textured.” Andrew Mellor, bbc.co.uk, 21st December 2009

“…Marin Alsop is the persuasive conductor of this live recording from Opera Colorado's 2008 production. Robert Orth is powerful yet detailed in the title-role, and Maria Kanyova sings the neurotic Pat Nixon with great intensity. Tracy Dahl is strong in Madame Mao's coloratura, and there are good performances from Thomas Hammons (Kissinger) and Marc Heller (Mao Tse-tung)...” Gramophone Magazine, December 2009

“Alsop has this music in her very being, and her version is cast from strength. Robert Orth is a strong Nixon and his wife Pat is intensely and sympathetically characterized by Maria Kanyova. But Tracy Dahl steals the shows in her sympathetic portrayal of Madame Mao, particularly in the coloratura of the closing Act. An unforgettable set.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

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Naxos American Classics - 8669022-24

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Adams, J: Short Ride in a Fast Machine, etc.

Adams, J:

Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Grand Pianola Music

Lang, D:

Are you experienced?

David Lang (narrator), Hendrik Jan Renes (tuba)

Under Orpheus

Ellen Corver, Sepp Grotenhuis (pianos)


Ellen Corver, Sepp Grotenhuis (pianos)

Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Stephen Mosko

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Chandos - CHAN9363

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Adams & Harris Violin Concertos

Adams & Harris Violin Concertos


Adams, J:

Violin Concerto

Harris, Roy:

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra


Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen continues her series of concerto recordings on Signum with two contrasting works by American composers.

Already considered by many to be a modern classic, John Adams 1993 Violin Concerto was described by the composer as having a ‘hypermelody’, in which the soloist plays longs phrases without stop for the duration of the 35 minute piece. Although composed in 1949, the first performance of Roy Harris’s Violin Concerto didn’t occur until 1984. Since then it has been championed for its “luminous orchestration and exalted tone”.

For this recording Tamsin Waley-Cohen is joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under American conductor Andrew Litton.

“Roy Harris may be the most all-American composer you have never heard of...Waley-Cohen handles [the Adams's] gruelling solo part with athleticism and conviction, and both pieces benefit from the punchy playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and insightful conducting of Andrew Litton.” The Guardian, 29th September 2016 ***

“It’s a very welcome work, with much to like, to be thrilled and moved by, and is given here with commitment and colour by all concerned.” classicalsource.com

“Tamsin Waley-Cohen brings the lyrical sweetness and breadth of tone Harris needs, while the sweeping vistas and exuberant rhythms are supplied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Litton.” Record Review

“There is some tremendous playing from Waley-Cohen … with impressive accuracy from both soloist and orchestra, a real rapport … This is a fabulous performance of a very fine concerto. These two concertos sit remarkably well together. The recording is excellent as are the booklet notes.” The Classical Reviewer

“Her interpretation [of the Adams] is technically beyond reproach and musically imaginative. What makes this recording indispensible is the coupling...Harris’s Concerto is a major (re-)discovery, and Waley-Cohen outclasses Fulkerson’s pioneering version in every respect. Andrew Litton and the BBC Symphony provide superb, supple support.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2016

“Waley-Cohen brings magnetic performances and an enthusiast’s passion to this splendid disc…his Violin Concerto duly bubbles with folk melodies, modal harmonies and open-hearted expression, and Waley-Cohen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra bring tremendous warmth and verve to their performance…[her] laser-bright tone and effortless agility drives this outstanding account” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2016 *****

“very welcome new recordings full of verve and vigour … Waley Cohen plays vigorously throughout … an essential listen.” Classical Music, December 2016

GGramophone Awards 2017

Shortlisted - Concerto

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2016

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Signum - SIGCD468

(CD)

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Adams - Complete Piano Music

Adams - Complete Piano Music


Adams, J:

Phrygian Gates for solo piano

American Berserk (2001)

China Gates

Hallelujah Junction


Ralph van Raat (piano) with Maarten van Veen (piano)

“My aim will be forever to let the music of today sound to an audience in the best possible way, and to convince the people of the beauty and expressiveness of the music of their own living world.” Ralph van Raat

“…Phrygian Gates is a 25-minute movement of almost romantic scope and ambition, with genuinely expressive harmonies. Ralph Van Raat gives full weight to all that emotional potential, and he combines superbly with Maarten van Veen on Hallelujah Junction, the two-piano work from 1996 that shows how far Adams's music evolved in less than two decades.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2007 ****

“China Gates and Phrygian Gates from 1977-78 show Adams defining his own style as opposed to the classical minimalists such as Riley, Reich and Glass. China Gates is under six minutes and consistently delicate, while Phrygian Gates is a blockbuster of nearly 25. In Phrygian Gates the repetition is constant but there are also abrupt dislocations which function like film cuts – or the electronic gate which is meant by these titles. The technique is the same in the larger concert works as well as the operas that have made Adams famous. There seems to be no obvious reason why one texture ends and another begins, but that's the point of the discontinuity – and it goes back to Satie and Stravinsky.
American Berserk (2000) is the most recent piece and both words in the title are justified.
From an early age Adams was surrounded by popular music and jazz on equal terms with classical composers. That background figures here with the crazier improvisational Ives and – very obviously – the swinging mechanical complexities of Conlon Nancarrow's studies for player piano. As in Grand Pianola Music, it's extravagantly entertaining.
In the exhilarating two-piano Hallelujah Junction (1996) Nancarrow again stands as godfather and you can hear the rhythmic hallelujahs as it belts on to its hilarious climax.
The Dutch pianists, cleanly recorded, deliver everything with consistent aplomb.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The performances by Ralph van Raat…are a triumph of deceptiveness: that is, playing these pieces must require the utmost concentration as you count the bars past, avoid those little modifications to rhythm that a pianist will instinctively deploy to bring a performance alive, but van Raat obtains a near-hypnotic control in the two early pieces, almost mechanical in its reliability, and he bubbles with life in the later two” International Piano

“[Mr. Adams] would surely like Mr. van Raat’s hard work and enthusiasm” New York Times

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Naxos American Classics - 8559285

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Adams: Violin Concerto, Corigliano: Red Violin 'Chaconne'

Adams: Violin Concerto, Corigliano: Red Violin 'Chaconne'


Adams, J:

Violin Concerto

Corigliano, J:

Red Violin ‘Chaconne’

Enescu:

Romanian Rhapsody in A major, Op. 11 No. 1

(arr. Waxman)

Waxman, F:

Tristan and Isolde Fantasia


“The soloist in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was the beguiling Chloë Hanslip, a sizzling young product of the Yehudi Menuhin School. Hanslip produces a full-blooded sound… Her dazzling technical proficiency made sparks fly.” The Independent, concert review 2005

“It's excellent sense to couple John Adams's Violin Concerto with John Corigliano's Chaconne based on his film music for The Red Violin. Both require bravura of the highest order… This is the fourth recording of the Adams Concerto. …Hanslip's new version seems to me undoubtedly the one to acquire.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2006 *****

“As an overall concept this album is a mess. Franz Waxman's arrangement of Enescu's First Romanian Rhapsody is positioned before the Adams Concerto and sounds like an encore before the main event. Waxman's Tristan and Isolde Fantasia pushes Wagner towards Cecil B DeMille histrionics, while John Corigliano's hacked-together Chaconne is episodic and rhetorical and is severely lacking in the material department.
This is a pity because nothing should hide the fact that Chloë Hanslip is the sort of musician every teenager forced to practise their scales dreams of becoming. The richness and clarity of her tone is beyond learning, and she demonstrates such profound empathy for John Adams's 1993 Violin Concerto that Gidon Kremer (Nonesuch) can consider himself completely outplayed. This is the sort of performance that secures a reputation for life.
The first movement is a particular challenge, as an unwinding melodic line generates itself over a quarter-hour span. Kremer plays the notes mechanically but Hanslip deconstructs their meaning and pieces together a cogent narrative direction that's a bona fide interpretation.
The sing-song ballad quality of the slow middle movement unlocks her lyrical imagination, while the tricky moto perpetuo of the violin part zigzags and breakdances across occasional Nancarrow-like rhythmic overlays in an exuberant finale. Assertive and enthused accompaniment from Slatkin and the RPO, too – everybody's doing Adams the greatest of service.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“…Chloë Hanslip is the sort of musician every teenager forced to practise their scales dreams of becoming. The richness and clarity of her tone is beyond learning, and she demonstrates such profound empathy for John Adams's 1993 Violin Concerto that Gidon Kremer... consider himself completely outplayed. This is the sort of performance that secures a reputation for life.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2006

Presto Disc of the Week

4th August 2008

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Naxos American Classics - 8559302

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Composing America: The Lark Quartet

Composing America: The Lark Quartet


Adams, J:

John's Book of Alleged Dances: 5 Pages

Bolcom:

Billy in the Darbies

Copland:

Two Pieces for string quartet

Moravec:

Piano Quintet


The Lark Quartet

One might be forgiven for finding the title Composing America a tad ambitious; it begs a number of questions, not the least of which is “just whose America is this”? The music on this varied CD gives some answers to that question: this is an America of vital concert music with roots deep in the American vernacular. Each work, to varying degrees, presents the listener with a distinct transformation of the popular and folk musics that have defined America. Promising to deliver “a performance of grace, proportion and burnished brilliance” (The Washington Post), The Lark Quartet continues to delight audiences with its energy, commitment and artistry.

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Bridge - BRIDGE9423

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Concerti III: Francis Poulenc, Colin McPhee, John Adams

Concerti III: Francis Poulenc, Colin McPhee, John Adams


Adams, J:

Grand Pianola Music

Trio Mediæval

McPhee, C:

Tabuh-Tabuhan

Poulenc:

Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos & Orchestra


GrauSchumacher Piano Duo

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Brad Lubman

Three completely different composers – but three works with a great deal in common: Gamelan, Minimal, Parody. Our outstanding GrauSchumacher Piano Duo keeps creating surprising but logical ideas, realizing these with fantastic pianistic virtuosity.

When American composers bade farewell during the 1960s to the cerebral exercises of the European avant-garde substantiated by historical-philosophical considerations, proclaiming the cult of a new simplicity, they also did this with reference to African drumming rituals, Indonesian gamelan music, pop-art and pop-music. They called the result “minimal music”, whose most important characteristic, as with the gamelan, was repetitive patterns above a steady beat; these are transported into other musical aggregate states by means of gradually increasing (at first almost unnoticeable) disturbances, irregularities and phase shifts. Together with the re-enthronement of the major and minor keys, these procedures frequently created psychedelic effects – by no means unintentionally.

Adams has provided a particularly vivid report on the stimuli that led him to compose his Grand Pianola Music: he dreamt that he was driving on Interstate Highway 5 when he was approached from behind by two black stretch-limousines; when they passed him, they were transformed into the world’s longest Steinway pianos and then fired salvos of B-flat major and E-flat major arpeggios at 90 miles per hour. Another important stimulus was the recollection of having walked through the halls of the San Francisco Conservatory and heard the sonic flood of twenty or more pianos “playing Chopin, the Emperor Concerto, Hanon, Rachmaninoff, the Maple Leaf Rag, and much more.”

“This splendid disc offers three works which directly or indirectly owe something to Balinese gamelan…[and] the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo perform with great spirit and charisma alongside the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, here on sparkling form” BBC Music Magazine, September 2017 ****

“The ingenious conception of this collection is undeniable, and those keen to hear these works outside of their usual recorded context need not hesitate” Gramophone Magazine, June 2017

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Neos - NEOS21703

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John Adams: Harmonielehre

John Adams: Harmonielehre


Adams, J:

Harmonielehre

Doctor Atomic Symphony

Short Ride in a Fast Machine


In this new release Peter Oundjian and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra tackle two seminal works by the American composer John Adams. Harmonielehre, a symphony in all but name, is an expansive, richly expressive, and often breathtaking work. It takes its title from a 1911 text by Arnold Schoenberg on harmonic theory and evokes the lush soundworld of that composer’s early tonal period. Also heard throughout the score are echoes of Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, Sibelius, Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky. The piece also takes inspiration from some of Adams’s own strange and surreal dreams. The Doctor Atomic Symphony, based on Adams’s controversial opera Doctor Atomic, focuses on the character of the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as preparations are made for the first test of the atomic bomb.

Although played without a break, the symphony falls into three distinct sections: ‘The Laboratory’, ‘Panic’, and ‘Trinity’. The symphony’s concluding section takes its title from the name given to the bomb test site by Oppenheimer himself, with reference to a deeply spiritual John Donne sonnet. This poem is set to music at the end of Act I of the opera and here in the symphony the aria’s intense vocal line is performed by solo trumpet. Also featured on the disc is John Adams’s energetic fanfare Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

“The music is played with huge élan by the RSNO...The results are highly charged and exciting performances of three works that place Adams at the very forefront of American contemporary classical music and deservedly so.” MusicWeb International, 18th December 2013

“the RSNO under Peter Oundjian manage very effectively to project this single sweep of sound from beginning to end. Brass and percussion stand out for all the right reasons...but it's really a sense of collective unity imparted by the orchestra during the loud sections that is most impressive.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2014

Super Audio CD

Format:

Hybrid Multi-channel

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Chandos - CHSA5129

(SACD)

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John Adams: Portrait

John Adams: Portrait


Adams, J:

Shaker Loops

Road Movies for violin & piano

John's Book of Alleged Dances


Louise Bessette (piano)

La Pietà, Angèle Dubeau

After devoting two critically acclaimed recordings of ‘Portraits’ to Glass and Pärt, Dubeau & La Pietà is now paying homage to the music of John Adams.

To shed light on the composer's multiple facets, the works cover several decades of composition and were written for different ensembles. Works include Shaker Loops and Road Movies.

“Angele Dubeau and the Canadian ensemble La Pieta bring affection, precision, and a programme that makes a persuasive narrative from these three works which had yet to feature on one disc...In Shaker Loops the tone is of watchful expectation, prayerful simplicity and vibrant grace. La Pieta colours Adams's filament of sound delicately” BBC Music Magazine, July 2011 ****

“Shaker Loops, top notch. La Pieta's unstoppable rhythmic impetus is just what's needed to shake Adams's obstinate, tremulous melodic loops into being...there's absolute understanding between performer and composer as the performance motors towards its violently intense climax.” Classic FM Magazine, July 2011 ***

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Analekta - AN28732

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