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Fearful Symmetries / The Wound-Dresser

John Adams , John Adams , Orchestra of St. Luke's , Sanford Sylvan Audio CD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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MP3 Music, 2 Songs, 2005 $9.49  
Audio CD, 1989 --  
Audio Cassette, 1989 --  

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Fearful Symmetries / The Wound-Dresser + John Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur/My Father Knew Charles Ives
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Product Details

  • Performer: Sanford Sylvan
  • Orchestra: Orchestra of St. Luke's
  • Conductor: John Adams
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (October 20, 1989)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B000005IZQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,843 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. The Wound-Dresser - John Adams
2. Fearful Symmetries - John Adams

Editorial Reviews

This 1989 release became an unexpected surprise hit, primarily because of the extraordinary tone poem The Wound Dresser. Written to Walt Whitman's poem of the same name, it deals with Whitman's musings on the Civil War. There is hardly a hint of Adams's traditional (and usually blithe) minimalistic impulses here. This is the "dark" side of the composer that is to surface later in his opera The Death of Klinghoffer. Fearful Symmetries, the companion piece here, is more typical of Adams; it's a junkyard rattle of catchy rhythms and clever orchestral textures--a work made almost trivial by The Wound Dresser. --Paul Cook

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Early and Powerful Adams Compositions April 9, 2006
Format:Audio CD
As John Adams becomes an ever-increasing important presence in contemporary classical music it is a true pleasure to wander back through some of his early compositions at the moment when his genius was molding. This superb CD may have been recorded in 1988 but remains one of particular beauty in the growing pantheon of Adams recordings.

The CD opens with THE WOUND-DRESSER, Adams intensely poignant setting of Walt Whitman's poetry from the Civil War, a war during which the pacifist directed his participation to caring for the wounded soldiers both in the field and in the elementary, sadly inept field hospitals. Intoning the gorgeous poetry is baritone Sanford Sylvan who premiered the piece. Sylvan's beauty of voice is matched by his intelligence of phrasing and his completely understandable diction. Adams admits that this composition for baritone and orchestra was influenced by the death of his father from Alzheimer's Disease and the patient love and caring of that 'wound' by his mother. It is also from the time when AIDS was so very much in the public eye, another factor that makes Whitman's poetry very contemporary in dramatic poignancy. Yet whatever the influencing factors the piece is one of deeply felt compassion and is some of the most beautiful vocal music Adams has written to date.

FEARFUL SYMMETRIES is paired with WOUND-DRESSER for a good reason: Adams has always felt that his works 'alternate between two opposing polarities: along with every dark, introspective, 'serious' piece there must come the Trickster, the garish, ironic wild card...'. FEARFUL SYMMETRIES is all about jazz and puns and generous good humor.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adams Sets Whitman January 17, 2001
Format:Audio CD
John Adams' setting of Walt Whitman's poem, The Wound-Dresser, which Whitman derrived from his visits to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, is a masterful composition. The poem takes you right into the bleak hospital facilities, which you can almost smell and taste. Adams' setting of it infuses the music with the same emotion that Whitman conveys with the words. While this is somewhat different than Adams' usual fare, it is a significant work, most worthy of consideration.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fearful Symmetries - Wow! December 19, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Audio CD
This was my introduction to John Adams. When I first heard it I pulled over to the side of the road to listen and called the station to find out the title. Fearful Symmetries is sort of a big-band piece, but with a mass of saxaphones that not even the biggest big band would have had. It's composed of a simple pattern that is shaped and reshaped. I find it utterly hypnotic - one of the best 28 minutes of music in my library. It is also perhaps one of the loudest. ;-)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen and listen again November 26, 2007
Format:Audio CD
The Wound-Dresser and Fearful Symmetries make a rather strange couple, the former reflective, dark and sombre, the latter an apparently trivial, pop-genre piece. Do look deeper than this. The Wound-Dresser is a song for baritone and orchestra. The soloist, Sanford Sylvan, lives up to his highly appropriate surname. His clarity of delivery and, especially, diction are a joy. His light vibrato endows his voice with a surface like planed wood. This is not music that will grab you by the throat and make you listen. Like any good friend, it's something you will have to get to know on its own terms. The words are by Walt Whitman and describe healing the wounded and sick in the American Civil War. Weighty stuff, and weightily handled. But yet, a friend of mine borrowed the cd some years ago. He knew nothing of John Adams and not much more about late twentieth century music. I had to go and get it back from him. Effectively, he complained to me because he had not been able to stop listening to this piece. He said he had played it almost continuously for the whole fortnight. He admitted he had never got to the second piece. Fearful Symmetries, on the surface, sounds like it comes from a different universe. It doesn't. It took me some time to get beyond the opening section. Like my friend, I was so captivated by the Wound-Dresser, I simply wanted to start it again when the highly contrasting rhythms of the second piece began. But there is much more to this piece. The saxophones immediately state their cool tone. There's also a drum beat, though light. Overall the writing for wind is virtuosic. It shares with its cousin, The Chairman Dances from Nixon in China, an apparently light approach to quite profound experience. If you ever get past the Wound-Dresser, you will find another wholly satisfying musical idea.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime June 10, 1999
Format:Audio CD
The Wound dresser is one of Adams most brooding pieces. The pace of the music conveys the tension of the ward, the pain of the sufferers. Adams is a mixture of intense Romanticism and ultra modern rhythmic canvasses. This disc is a fantastic starter for any one wishing to explore the many faces of this brilliant composer.
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