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LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: John Adams: City Noir
WORKS: City Noir; Saxophone Concerto
PERFORMER: Timothy McAllister (saxophone); St Louis Symphony/David Robertson
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79564-4


At first glance, this is an untypical addition to the Nonesuch Adams canon. It involves none of the orchestras which co-commissioned City Noir – Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic were filmed performing the work for a Deutsche Grammophon DVD – and none of the usual conductors, John Adams himself included.

In fact David Robertson and his St Louis orchestra do a sleek and beautifully layered – which is also to say superbly engineered – job. And the link in scores composed four years apart is saxophonist Timothy McAllister, more of a lounge lizard in the big orchestral work than he is in the new concerto, where there’s a classicism and a very sparing use of vibrato, which helps to keep the jazz influence subterranean.

Neither work is quite the brave new world of The Gospel According to the Other Mary, though both add unfamiliar sounds to the complex weave. The Saxophone Concerto has echoes of the jagged unisons in the superlative Gnarly Buttons, but also a sweetness in some of the melodies that’s fresh. The angsty string lines of City Noir go back as far as The Chairman Dances and the burbling is familiar, though there’s method in the seeming free form; the trombone solo at the heart of the central nocturne is astonishing, and the finale builds to a repeat-mania as memorable as the one at the end of Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.

Absolute Jest, Adam’s Beethoven riff for string quartet and orchestra, has to be the next Nonesuch priority.


David Nice