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John Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives etc (Tonhalle Zurich)

Tonhalle Zurich/Paavo Järvi (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

John Adams
My Father Knew Charles Ives; Slonimsky’s Earbox; Tromba Lontana; Lollapalooza
Tonhalle Zurich/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA 874   54:28 mins


A snapshot of John Adams’s music over two decades: the earliest piece, Tromba Lontana (1985) has some of the minimalist purity of Shaker Loops from a few years previously. Over a chugging accompaniment, short melodic fragments are repeated by two trumpets, whose placing off-stage leads to a few lapses of ensemble and rhythmic tightness.

That isn’t a problem in Lollapalooza (1995), which, over an ostinato based on the internal rhythm of its title, explores a fairly limited and slowly changing harmonic profile, despite its in-your-face energy. From the same year, Slonimsky’s Earbox is more characteristic of Adams’s later style, still repetitive, but with a greater variety of rhythm and texture. The inspiration of Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol is never far away in this work, and sometimes overt in the harmonic and melodic shapes. There’s more for the orchestra to get its teeth into here, and it’s a taut performance, with a nicely detailed recording in the excellent Tonhalle acoustic.

The triptych My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003) reflects places in Adams’s life, opening with a memory of Ives’s Unanswered Question, and there are plenty of other ghosts of that pioneering composer as the piece develops. It can stray over the delicate line between homage and pastiche, and the musical layering of the opening panel sounds more like second-rate Ives than first-rate Adams. The slow, less congested second panel is the most effective, and most Ivesian in the best sense, but the work as a whole doesn’t add up for me, despite another warmly committed performance.


Martin Cotton