David Robertson conducts the St Louis Symphony Orchestra and Leila Josefowicz in a performance of Scheherazade.2 by John Adams

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COMPOSERS: John Adams
LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: John Adams
WORKS: Scheherazade.2
PERFORMER: Leila Josefowicz (violin); St Louis Symphony/David Robertson
CATALOGUE NO: 7559794351

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Equalling the fabulous richness of Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite is a tall order, but John Adams has a twist in mind: the brutal situation of the wife who staves off execution by telling her bloodthirsty husband the tales of 1001 nights still resonates today. So this Muslim woman is at the mercy of zealots and bigots who pursue her until the final, miraculous ‘sanctuary’: three of Adams’s finest minutes as the soloist soars above queasily shifting multipart strings.

The rest is more nebulous, sounding at times like film noir mood music. But the textures, with the extra spice of cimbalom thrown into the mix, are never less than beguiling, and violinist Leila Josefowicz throws herself into a generous role like a serious actor in Shakespeare. As the third in Adams’s violin-solo triptych, Scheherazade.2 doesn’t quite have the exhilaration of the first concerto or the trance-magic of The Dharma at Big Sur, but even a second-level Adams piece is better than a thousand and one works by most composers working today.

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David Nice