WORKS: Chamber Symphony
PERFORMER: Absolute Ensemble/Kristjan Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 00492 (distr. Discord)
It’s a logical coupling – John Adams conceived his Chamber Symphony as a contemporary analogue of Schoenberg’s Op. 9 – the scoring is nearly the same (though Adams introduces trumpet, trombone, percussion and synthesiser) and both works contain a musical argument of symphonic weight and complexity within the relative transparency of a chamber ensemble. The Adams score is one of the most impressive of his works from the Nineties, crammed with melodic detail and endlessly fertile rhythmic invention, and teasingly making reference to a whole bundle of archteypes: Weill, Stravinsky and Hindemith as well as Schoenberg jostle in the first movement, the second unfolds a smoozy tune over a bass line that Bach would have proud of.
Yet though Adams’ post-modern sensibility, refracting several centuries of musical development through the rainbow prism of popular music, ends up worlds away from Schoenberg’s dogged awareness of historical imperatives, these highly energised performances by the New York-based Absolute Ensemble do point up the kinship of the two works. By giving the Schoenberg a lithe directness they never gets bogged in the intricate thematic links that bind the single movement work together, and deliver the climax of the final section with real authority, while they handle the ensemble and metrical challenges that Adams sets his players with great panache and naturalness. Andrew Clements