WORKS: El Dorado; Berceuse élégiaque; La lugubre gondola
PERFORMER: Hallé Orchestra/Kent Nagano, London Sinfonietta/John Adams
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79359-2
John Adams’s work always comes with neat programmatic packaging and, as the title signals, El Dorado is ‘about’ the Spanish conquest of the New World. But in his orchestral diptych that sad history is turned on its head. The first movement, ‘A Dream of Gold’, is the brutal, pillaging part, a musical machine that moves remorselessly upwards in jagged chromatic patterns until it destroys itself in a final cataclysm; the second, ‘Soledades’, is an evocation of the land before the brutal intrusion, all undefiled modal melodies and consonant harmonies, which grows organically towards an affirmatory climax before lapsing back into the innocence from which it started out.
Adams admits the second movement is ‘an Arcadian dream’, but that its metaphor is ‘still worth exploring’ and he does so in music of great emotional power. The balance between the two parts seems perfectly judged, emotionally and linguistically; the score is clearly the work of a composer on top of his musical technique and sure of what he wants to achieve with it.
The two arrangements that complete the disc are fine examples of Adams’s orchestral craft – the one, his version of Busoni’s much underrated Berceuse élégiaque, is a boiling down to its chamber-orchestra essence of a larger score, while the other bolsters and expands upon Liszt’s haunting late piano piece, La lugubre gondola. They are subtly rendered; not major Adams perhaps, but useful little clues to where at least some of his stylistic sympathies lie. Andrew Clements