Adams: Naive and Sentimental Music

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Adams
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Naive and Sentimental Music
PERFORMER: Los Angeles PO/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79636-2
Regardless of definitions, to hear John Adams’s Naive and Sentimental Music as a symphony, as the biography on his official web site suggests, would be to approach it with false expectations. Instead, the composer’s method is one of spacious meditations on time-spans cross-hatched with slow or fast materials, whose vernacular tinge and transparent treatment have won him the plaudits of our age.

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The direction of the evolving yet ever-returning line of the first of the three movements fascinates without interruption, though leading ‘some place else’ than the telos of traditional symphonic music. Of the central movement, inspired by the archetypal desire to return to uncorrupted infancy, with a sense, too, of spacious views of the great outdoors, what could be higher praise than to say that its wilful musical innocence gives a penetrating glimpse of America’s vision of itself?

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Revisiting earlier traits, including Reich’s, the finale is no less genuine Adams, not least in its truth of feeling, which is utterly contemporary yet hard to locate precisely in the notes. Even so, textural details of colour and rhythm shine out on this premiere recording, surely an authoritative reading from the players and conductor who gave the first performance in February 1999. Nicholas Williams