Leave it to Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony to deliver one of the more impressive classical discs of 1999: a pairing of the violin concertos of John Adams and Philip Glass. Hearing the works of these two American music mavericks side-by-side is a study in contrasts: Adams's postmodernist composition from 1993 is filled with spooky overtones, as the violin threads its way through the piece, always at the forefront. It doubles as a ballet (the NYC Ballet cocommissioned the piece), yet never forgets the traditional violin-concerto form. Glass's composition from the late '80s is less complex. It, too, is based around a traditional structure of three movements, but these are passages we've heard from the composer for the last decade, though never quite so well assembled.
Gidon Kremer has recorded two earlier discs featuring both the Adams and Glass concertos, but the sonics (especially on his Glass disc) are less impressive than they are here. Robert McDuffie's violin isn't as piercing as Kremer's--a shame during the eerily gorgeous second movement of Adams's piece--but there's a pleasant balance to this new disc, and the Houston Symphony sounds fantastic. All in all, it's a great package of two contemporary classical-music compositions everyone should hear. --Jason Verlinde