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Adams: Shaker Loops; The Wound-Dresser; Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Adams: Shaker Loops; The Wound-Dresser; Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Nathan Gunn, baritone; Marin Alsop, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.559031.

It's not hard to understand why composer John Adams' Shaker Loops is one of this modern composer's most popular works. As conductor Simon Rattle has explained, Adams' music has "always seemed to be moving forward in space, that I would imagine while listening to it that I was in a light aircraft flying rather fast, close to the ground." Very true. Adams' music has a wonderful forward momentum, and in Shaker Loops, especially, a strong rhythmic beat.

The present album contains four works quite different from another, particularly for a composer best known as a minimalist. The disc begins with a real barnburner, "Short Ride in a Fast Machine." Two minutes into this thing and I felt like I was back on Northern California's coastal Highway I in my 350Z. It's very exhilarating (the music and the Z), with Alsop's conducting the Bournemouth Symphony with all stops open. This high-octane piece is followed by two downers, "The Wound-Dresser" and "Berceuse elegiaque," both slow and rather gloomy affairs, the former a musical setting for Walt Whitman's poem of the same name. Can't say I enjoyed either work too much, but maybe I was in a bad mood before I started. If I wasn't, these two numbers would have assured it.

The main piece of music on the disc is the four-movement Shaker Loops from 1978, which has rightly made Adams famous. "The Loops," writes Adams, "are small melodic fragments whose 'tails,' so to speak, are tied to their 'heads,' creating loops of repeated melodies...." The "Shaker" part of the title derives from Adams' attempt to recreate the feeling of a Shaker religious ceremony as they shake in religious ecstasy and divine meditation. The final movement has always reminded me of the film music of Bernard Hermann, something out of Psycho, for instance.

Naxos engineers capture all of the shaking and trembling and pulse of the music, much of it percussive, in one of their very best recordings. The orchestra is miked fairly closely, producing excellent definition and impact. Indeed, the immediacy of the recording may not be appreciated by listeners with systems too bright or too hard, but in a generally well-balanced system it should prove eventful, to say the least.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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