All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Adler: A 90th Birthday Celebration

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

One Lives but Once – A 90th Birthday Celebration
Adler: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto No. 1; Man lebt nur einmal; Concerto for woodwind quintet (Shir HaMa’a lot); Guitar Concerto; Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light; Ports of Call – A Mediterranean Suite; Five Choral Scherzi
Siwoo Kim (violin), Nicholas Goluses (guitar), Michael Brown (piano); Brandenburg State Orchestra Frankfurt/Emily Freeman Brown; Eastman Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra/Neil Varon; Eastman Chorale/William Weinert
Linn Records CKD 590


Among modern composers, Samuel Adler’s catalogue of some 400 works may seem puny next to Villa-Lobos’s torrential downpour of 2000. Yet this veteran American’s output still deserves some award for size, as well as the volume of notes hurtling through movements typically marked ‘fast and with a happy spirit’ or ‘vigorous and very rhythmic’. Following the family’s escape from Nazi Germany, Adler’s continuing love of life stands as one of his most endearing traits.

Admittedly his embrace of abundance can get him into trouble – something to be expected from  Shir HaMa’a lot, a dangerously clotted concerto for woodwind quintet and orchestra. Yet taken in stages, this three-disc 90th birthday celebration, sampling his output from 1953 to 2012, should still leave the listener energised, helped by enthusiastic, mostly German performances, chiefly conducted by Emily Freeman Brown (the composer’s wife).

In the two fascinating symphonies from the 1950s, you can hear Adler building his personal profile from Hindemith, Piston, Copland, all of whom were his teachers, and his own strong Jewish heritage. By the 1980s
and the Piano Concerto, 12-tone writing has crept in, though he never abandons his love of rowdy finales, prayerful slow movements, and contrasting sonorities brightly arrayed. It’s a very American mix.

In the Violin Concerto of 2012, Siwoo Kim’s impassioned playing adds notable fire to the busy textures. But for instrumental niceties it’s hard to beat the dancing simplicity of Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light for viola and guitar, or Ports of Call for guitar and two violins – a sunny guide to the Mediterranean calling points of Jewish refugees, with movements variously marked ‘with a happy spirit’ and ‘fast and exuberant’. Adler in a nutshell.


Geoff Brown