Adams, Busoni

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Adams,Busoni
WORKS: Shaker Loops; The Wound-Dresser; Short Ride in a Fast Machine; Berceuse élégiaque (orch. Adams)
PERFORMER: Nathan Gunn (baritone); Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559031
Marin Alsop has directed various British orchestras in really excellent performances for Naxos’s American Classics series, and the good work continues here. She coaxes superb playing out of the Bournemouth strings in Shaker Loops, whose rapid streams of precisely articulated tremolandi might almost have been cruelly designed to highlight any deficiencies in ensemble. It’s easy, though, to think of Adams’s toccata-like textures as mere machines. Not even the fast one into which we step for the Short Ride is really that: rather they’re quite long-range processes of building tension and then releasing it, harmonic arches with expressive goals and purpose. I was very impressed with the way Alsop shapes the slow third movement of Shaker Loops, building to a powerfully emotional climax and then climbing beyond to the still, calm heights from which the finale begins. I don’t think I’ve heard this work better done, not even by Kent Nagano and the Orchestra of St Luke’s (Nonesuch), which I’d previously have considered the benchmark. In the deeply elegiac Whitman setting, The Wound-Dresser, baritone Nathan Gunn has his work cut out to challenge comparison with Sanford Sylvan (for whom the work was written) under Adams’s own direction. Though lyrically expressive, he sounds more pensive than shaken and does not fit the words quite so idiomatically or so clearly to the vocal line. He’s perfectly acceptable, though, and the Bournemouth SO’s uncredited first trumpet is plangently authoritative in his haunting solos. Altogether a useful budget-price anthology of pieces that are already bedding themselves down in the mainstream repertoire. Calum MacDonald