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Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony / String Quartet

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 31, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

John Adams' SON OF CHAMBER SYMPHONY (2007) is performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), led by the composer, and Adams' String Quartet (2008) is performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the ensemble for which the piece was written. This is the first recording of both works.
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Digital Booklet: Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony & String Quartet
Digital Booklet: Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony & String Quartet
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Product Details

  • Performer: St. Lawrence String Quartet
  • Orchestra: International Contemporary Ensemble
  • Conductor: John Adams
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (May 31, 2011)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B004WJRIUA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,957 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Milan Simich on August 13, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I bought this for the string quartet, which I was not able to attend when the St. Lawrence performed it live. It's a difficult piece, I might not even 'like' it, but I keep going back to it. The second movement is pure Janacek. Who would have thought that from Adams?

I saw the Son Of conducted by Adams. It's a fun piece when you hear it live, but on record it sounds inconsaquential.
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John Adams is a very talented composer whose works are not formulaic. For example, his short opera, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, uses Motown, and one of the songs, "I Was Struck by the Rock I Was Standing On" is rock music; any rock group would be proud to have written it. Son of Chamber Symphony, whose title plays with the names of so many B movie sequels, like Son of Frankenstein and Daughter of Dracula, is a very inventive work that is Adams' homage to Schoenberg's chamber symphonies, especially the first one. However, Adams piece does not present a mere copy of Schoenberg's work; instead, Adams incorporates minimalism, Stravinsky's neo-classicism and some jazz. Adams' earlier work Harmonielehre is similar; Adams adds minimalism, dazzling orchestration, his own take on Parsifal in the second movement and a humorous tribute to his daughter and Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic, in the third movement. The second piece on this disc, String Quartet, is more compact but well written like the chamber symphony. Of course, Adams does not create just another string quartet; for example, in the last movement he uses something like a Morse code signal instead of a recurring theme which would be more typical in a traditional rondo.
I always look forward to a new work from Adams. He does not just toss off another piece, like too many creative artists of all types do, and that includes writers and painters also. I hope others will enjoy his music as much as I do.
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I much prefer these pieces to the old Adams standards like "Short Ride" and "Shaker Loops." They seem less relentless and more richly textured, and while the rhythmic drive that unifies them is never in doubt, neither is it as irritating as it can sometimes be in minimalist music. The "Son of Chamber Symphony" (2011) seems to aim to please. The two outer sections have strong rhythmic backbone but sound quite different. The first is toe-tapping and jazzy, and at times Gershwin comes to mind and sometimes Ravel. The third starts more motorically, a bit like Prokofiev, but becomes richer and stranger in its instrumental blending without any loss of energy. The middle section starts lyrically, but from about halfway through, the lyricism seems to be subjected to comic attack, and so the overall effect of the whole piece is quite unpretentious and light-hearted. Adams calls it "cheeky" in his program note, and I think that's apt.

The String Quartet has plenty of life too, but it seems a more substantial and serious piece. It is played rivetingly by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, for whom it was written and whom Adams clearly admires, as his program note makes clear. Folks who like Elliot Carter's Quartets will probably like this one: the long (21+minutes) first movement is almost a quartet in itself, with its four clearly distinct sections. The middle finds Adams as raptly expressive as I have ever heard him, and the other sections, while fully exploiting all possible effects and combinations from the four instruments, never seem to be just playing with sound for its own sake. There's a kind of dramatic relation among the sections that harks back to older quartet manners.
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Of that generation who challenged authority and convention while swimming in popular culture, John Adams has continually presented us compositions of complex development, orchestral color, propulsion, subversive wit, accessibility, joy and solemnity, spirituality and fun. Sometimes his works are emotional, other times intellectual, often both. Like its predecessor, Son of Chamber Symphony has a jazzy urgency, a bevy of lyrical passages, and danceable jagged rhythms. The third movement is punctuated throughout by bass drum and closes with a "delicately pulsing trash can lid", which fits better than the customary sound of cymbals. Adams is happy to parody himself, too, and we hear touches of Harmonielehre (his breakthrough piece). Adams tells us that this work was choreographed by Mark Morris (whose ballets I always attend in Berkeley), and I very much look forward someday to seeing how it was adapted. The abstraction of Adam's cheerful 24-minute symphony is itself dazzling. Once again forceful movement and melody is at the core in the second offering, a string quartet, oddly (for Adams) entited "String Quartet". Such chamber pieces are often introspective studies of form, and Adams divides this work into two main parts but with four subsections in the first. The variety and continual changes does not entirely work for me in fashioning a cohesive whole, especially in mood. However interesting, it ultimately seems more an exercise in virtuosity. The St. Lawrence String Quartet, for whom the work was composed and who find a home in Haydn and late, serious Beethoven, perform this modern work admirably. Adams himself leads an international ensemble for the chamber symphony.
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