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John Adams: Century Rolls / Lollapalooza / Slonimsky's Earbox

14 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 2, 2001
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Editorial Reviews

Of all the so-called minimalists working today, John Adams is the only one with any good ideas left. Witness this delightful release. The key to Adams's creativity is that he isn't bound by theoretical constraints on what "minimalism" should be. Century Rolls (1995) is a commission by Emanuel Ax, and it was inspired by the composer's listening to a CD recording of an ancient player piano. Century Rolls doesn't duplicate that sound, but it is, instead, an unexpected romp across new rhythmic territory. As for Mr. Ax, he comports himself very well, particularly in the difficult first Movement, which requires deft coordination of all forces involved. The brief Lollapalooza (1995) is more recognizably minimalist but with considerable orchestral color and shifting moods. And Slominsky's Earbox (1996) is a powerfully full-orchestra-driven canter. All this is to say that the CD is one of the best releases of Adams's career, and it will appeal to a very wide audience. --Paul Cook
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Product Details

  • Performer: Emanuel Ax
  • Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra
  • Conductor: Christoph von Dohnányi, Kent Nagano
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (January 2, 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B00004YR65
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,676 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Edward Wladas on January 12, 2001
Format: Audio CD
Let me say that any fan of modern piano concertos or of John Adams MUST have this disc. You owe it to yourself to hear the piano concerto entitled Century Rolls. I have ben familiar with this piece for almost two years. I have heard live concerts and have several taped performances.
The live performances that I attended remain most vividly in my memory in that you have to be in the space in which the piece is being played in order to hear all the dramatic and subtle effects. I have three taped perfromances all with Ax at the piano and with Adams, Eschenbach, and Tilson Thomas conducting. I have heard it live with David Robertson and Dohnanyi conducting. Though the emphasis is on the extensive workout the pianist has to give, it is also a virtuosic tour-de-force for the conductor to bring off.
The first movement lasts over 14 minutes and the pianist plays for almost all of the time. This movement is the most varied in terms of sound quantity. The movement begins with woodwind chirping and eventually reaches sudden and dramatic outbursts from the orchestra. The second movement can compare with Ravel's second movement of his G major concerto in terms of limpid and loving sound. It casts the same spell and never lets go. The beginning of the movement has the resonance of the ending of the first movement lingering in the air. The third movement is a rollercoaster of a ride from beginning to end and ,again, resembles the third movement of the Ravel concerto.
I have always loved Adams' music from the first time I heard Harmonium almost 20 years ago. I equally enjoy Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops (the orchestral version) and the Violin Concerto.
Dohnanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra are not the ideal pairing I would have hoped for in this piece. I would have preferred Slatkin and St.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Todd Ebert on February 28, 2005
Format: Audio CD
As much as I love Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Mozart, etc. I still cannot help but yearn for modern composers who are inspired by modern sounds, human experiences and emotions as the foundations for creating acoustic orchestral music. For me John Adams is one of the few who is successfully doing just this. I don't believe he's doing anything different than composers like Dvorak, Bartok, and Kodaly over one hundred years ago who based much of their works on ethnic popular folk music. Western music has a such a tremendous legacy, I'm glad to see it being advanced by Adams's genius. All three pieces, Century Rolls, Lollapalooza, and Slonimsky's Earbox I find fun and intriguing to listen to. May be they do not take me to the heavens like Mozart's 41st or Beethoven's 5th, but they nonetheless deserve careful attention before being dismissed as reactionary.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on June 29, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I was making a nearly blind guess when I bought this CD; I had made my decision based solely on the audio exerpts from Amazon.
But it was well worth the risk.
The CD contains an engaging 50 or so minutes of John Adams' finest, apart from Short Ride in a Fast Machine, my favourite of his. I am in to contemporary classical and I am glad I have this CD. The fluid and smooth tinkerings of Manny's Gym, the envigorating jazz powering Lollapalooza and the surprising jabs strewn throughout Hail Bop is just some of the great stuff on this CD you'll find. So if you are unsure about buying this recording, you will probably really enjoy it, especially if you are familiar with John Adams or other contemporary music.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Pontus T. on May 10, 2007
Format: Audio CD
Much speaks in favour of John Adams being the greatest living classical composer, which is though far from saying that he is actually great. His output for piano is sparse, though including the important quasi-masterpiece Phrygian Gates--indeed, one of the major works written for the instrument since Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux and Barber's Sonata.

I will try to put things into perspective: Together with Medtner's Third, Shostakovich's Second, and Poulenc's and Barber's Piano Concertos, Adams's Century Rolls is the greatest work for piano and orchestra written since Rachmaninov's landmark Paganini Rhapsody. On the other hand, one could argue there is limited competition--many have tried but utterly few have managed to create something truly memorable since the days of the great late-Romantic warhorses. But that is just why Adams's achievement should be anything but underestimated. Even if Mr Ax still has a monopoly on recorded versions, his playing is likely to more than hold its own with future versions, and so is the Cleveland support under von Dohnányi.

So, why only four stars? Well, the problem lies with the couplings, which are far from outstanding. My praise for Lollapalooza is considerably lower than that of many other reviewers; it is of some interest, though not for repeated listening. Slonimsky's Earbox indeed gives some pleasure, for the moment, though I would be deadly surprised hearing someone humming its tunes. Nagano's conducting thankfully does add some excitement.

Throughout, the recorded sound is excellent with a great deal of brilliance and impact. Overall, I would this disc is recommendable--not for the couplings but for the 'greatest' Piano Concerto written by a living composer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 27, 2005
Format: Audio CD
John Adams is popular not only with musicians who flock to him for commissions but also with audiences, who despite the intellectual participation required to delve deeply into the music of Adams' creations, greet him with standing ovations. This recording includes a piano concerto created for Emmanuel Ax, 'Century Rolls', which is as challenging yet engaging a work for piano and orchestra as any recent such compositions. Ax enormous talent makes this piece sound utterly effortless.

It is such commissions as the 'The Dharma of Big Sur' premiered in 2003 by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic with electric violinist Tracy Silverman that keep Adams' popularity alive. At a recent performance in Disney Hall with the same participants as for the premiere the audience not only understood the complex, richly colored score which demonstrates Adams' increasingly sophisticated and expanded palette, they accepted the aspect of an amplified electric violin as not just an instrument from the realm of 'pop culture' but as an expressive, completely different aspect of classical music. One only hopes that this work will soon be recorded as it is one of Adams' more complex and cerebral pieces.

Until that recording is made, this wonderful concerto, coupled with 'Lollapalooza' and 'Slonimsky's Earbox' for orchestra alone, will certainly be a fine introduction to the wonders Adams creates in the concerto realm. Grady Harp, May 05
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