Adams: Tromba lontana; Violin Concerto; The Wound-Dresser

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LABELS: BBC Late Junction
WORKS: Tromba lontana; Violin Concerto; The Wound-Dresser
PERFORMER: Leila Josefowicz (violin), Christopher Maltman (baritone); BBC SO/John Adams
BBC Music’s new Late Junction label enterprisingly offers live performances from this January’s John Adams Weekend at the Barbican. The works are all already available separately on Nonesuch CDs (and the popular Tromba lontana several places else), but these live recordings do not seem to me a whit less satisfying than the studio versions. Whether as an enticing coupling or an effective introduction to the composer, this is a useful disc.


The Violin Concerto has not previously been recorded with the composer as conductor. Adams has properly cited his great precursors in the form, from Beethoven to Schoenberg, but his is very much an American concerto, from a tradition equally created by Barber, Sessions, Bernstein, Schuman and Rózsa. The premiere recording, by Gidon Kremer and Kent Nagano, is possibly preferable in the chaconne slow movement, to which they give more expressive weight. But the remarkable young American violinist Leila Josefowicz, under Adams’s direction, provides a richer, wittier account of the first movement, while their stunning account of the toccata-style finale – rougher, much wilder and more incisive than Kremer/Nagano – is a delight. Christopher Maltman is easily Sanford Sylvan’s expressive equal in the deeply elegiac The Wound-Dresser (1989). I hadn’t previously realised its strong community of expression with Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque, which Adams was to arrange the following year. Calum MacDonald