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Adams: Harmonielehre; The Chairman Dances; Tromba Lontana; Short Ride in a Fast Machine Import

4.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Adams: Harmonielehre
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Audio CD, Import, April 12, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

ADAMS:HARMONIELEHRE
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Simon Rattle
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (April 12, 1994)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B000002RU2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,823 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Four great orchestral works by the American minimalist composer John Adams are showcased on this CD: Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances, and Two Fanfares: Tromba Lontana and Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

The title of the 40-minute Harmonielehre is based around the textbook written by the 12-tone serialist Arnold Schoenberg. While the strict world of dodecaphony never really evolved into popular circles, this minimalist work shows that the genre is willing to expand and evolve, incorporating new ideas and exploring new outlooks. The first movement of Harmonielehre starts out like we would expect; highly repetitive rhythms and slow harmonic rhythm with slight changes of meter and orchestral colors. The repetition creates a sort of mantra and the simplistic harmonic rhythm is the foil of dodecaphony. A long lugubrious melodic line shows up after the first 1/3 of the movement and is passed from voice to voice throughout the 17+ minutes. It is an outgoing and virile first movement that bristles with energy. The second movement, "The Anfortas Wound", uses some quasi-12 tone rows unusually enough, and really, the movement is evocative of pointillism rather than minimalism. A constantly shifting kaleidoscope of colors continue throughout, and a long sinuous melody wends its way from instrument to instrument. Minimalists never fear, the last movement, Meister Eckhardt and Quackie is a through and through description of John Adams' "sound". Starting in a high, ethereal tessitura, along with the help of various mallet instruments, piano, and harp, the piece expands into overlapping brass-like Doppler effects and a grand conclusion to an exhausting work. The parts are extremely virtuosic and require great stamina; for the listener too!
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Format: Audio CD
I wish there were more than 5 stars to rate this magnificent rendering of "Harmonielehre" (literally meaning "harmony lesson") which, in complete agreement with a couple other reviewers, is definitely worth the price of admission. As a musician, I listen to many things, not the least of which is the quality of a recording. The CBSO's version under the gifted baton of Sir Simon Rattle is soul-satisfyingly clean and, considering the incredible complexity of the composition, amazingly tight. Sir Rattle weaves a rich texture with subtle decrescendos in the midst of slow-but-thrillingly-sure crescendos that caused my hair to stand up and gooseflesh to appear...thus the word "satisfying" just fits all the way through. I can't for the life of me understand how anyone could view Adams' work as "repetitive"...every note and rhythmic pattern he has written here, it seems to me, fall much more into the category of "sequential," which therefore makes it all function. Counting by the musicians in this brilliant work must be very challenging...I would love to see the score. Every instrument supports every other...all dancing together even in rhythmic contrasts to one another to form this extraordinary whole. I love the mixture of the repeated rhythmic passages followed by the sweepingly romantic...every style, every color in the musical palette is represented in this piece. I cannot recommend this work, and this recording, highly enough.
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For those who have never listened to the American composer John Adams (not the President!), this is a terrific introduction to his art. It contains his "Harmonielehre," "The Chairman Dances," and two fanfares, "Tromba Lontana" and "Short Ride on a Fast Machine." Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra are in good form with these compositions.

My first introduction to John Adams was while listening to my local NPR station (WITF-FM) 2 or 3 years ago. I was hooked as I listened to the foxtrot for orchestra, "The Chairman Dances." Obviously, this also suggests how isolated I am from contemporary music! Upon hearing this piece, I ordered the CD from Amazon. And I have surely not regretted that purchase.

"The Chairman Dances" is based on Adams' opera, "Nixon in China," but it is a separate composition. This is a wonderfully energetic piece at many points, and well illustrates Adams' Minimalist perspective. Kind of hard to imagine Chairman Mao dancing with such energy during Nixon's visit to China! The liner notes say that: "Adams' score follows this process with striking acuity, especially as the big band tune, placed into a Minimalist environment, evokes a special kind of nostalgia." This piece "livelies one up" at its most energetic. There are also changes of pace in this nearly 13 minute piece, featuring contemplative music as well. The work fades out softly and slowly, evocatively.

There are also two fanfares, one of which is aptly titled "Short Ride on a Fast Machine." A lively, energetic, frenetic piece. This 1986 composition is characteristically an Adams' piece. This was written for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. As the notes say, this ". . .is almost manic in its immediate joyousness. . . .
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Format: Audio CD
Maestro Rattle is truly one of the best conductors in the world right now, and his earlier recordings with England's CBSO should not be overlooked becuase they lack a high powered orchestra. This recording of some of John Adams' finest, indeed some of the best music written in the latter half of the 20th Century, is truly not something to be missed. While true that the CBSO does at times show its weaknesses, Rattle more than makes up for it with his masterful handling of Adams' minimilism, and I for one never get bored or annyoed with the repetitive nature of the music. Don't for a second let the repetiviness of some of the detractor's comments steer you away from the works of Adams, after a few listenings, the subtle changes start of catch your ear and you hear just how intricately composed this music is. Adams is a true master in this age of music.
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