Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony; String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Adams
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Son of Chamber Symphony; String Quartet
PERFORMER: St Lawrence Quartet; International Contemporary Ensemble/John Adams
CATALOGUE NO: Nonesuch 523014

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In person, John Adams is a slender man. In Son of Chamber Symphony (2009), he is a glutton. This feast of colours and textures for 16 players may bear a strong family resemblance to its knockabout predecessor, Chamber Symphony (1992), but Adams’s tastes have broadened. Where Chamber Symphony pitted Schoenberg against the kinetic scores of the Road Runner cartoons, Son of Chamber Symphony pops Beethoven, Ravel, Stanley Donen and Richard Nixon into a hot tub and plies them with tequila slammers.

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The structure is familiar: fast, slow, fast. Beethoven is first up, referenced in the sharp report of the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony, now a twang from the International Contemporary Ensemble’s virtuosic bass line, now a tart spritz of piccolo. Ravel appears in the second movement’s sinuous pas de deux for violin and cello. There are echoes of the ‘News, News’ aria from Adams’s Nixon in China in the closing caper, though Adams is more even-handed in his distribution of the labour. So where is Stanley Donen? Everywhere. Co-commissioned by San Franciso Ballet, Son… is as athletic as any of Donen’s movie ballets for Gene Kelly. The 2008 String Quartet completes the disc, with its dedicatees the St Lawrence String Quartet faultlessly navigating coruscating tragedy and agitated brilliance. Anna Picard