John Adams: City Noir

David Robertson / Saint Louis Symphony Chorus / St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

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John Adams: City Noir Review

by James Manheim

Both of these John Adams works date from 2013 (City Noir was revised from a 2009 original) and may safely, inasmuch as Adams has achieved senior citizen status, be assigned to the later phase of his career. Whatever one thinks of this enormously popular and controversial composer, it is impressive that his style has continued to evolve, mostly along the axis of incorporating new styles into his basic post-minimalist language. The two pieces on the album form a good pair, for they both evoke the golden age of modern jazz in the 1950s and 1960s. The Saxophone Concerto especially suggests the jazz solos of John Coltrane and the other saxophone giants of the time, largely without explicit use of jazz rhythms; the work does not even contain a percussion section, and everything is contained within a more or less conventional three-movement classical structure. This is one key to Adams' programmatic works: despite the basic simplicity and accessibility of his musical language, its extramusical references often operate in quite a subtle way. The subject of the three-movement City Noir is just what the title indicates, but the music is free of cinematic clichés, and Adams puts across his noir city through melodic shapes and the solo-heavy orchestration, which again includes a saxophone. Saxophonist Timothy McAllister, who premiered the Saxophone Concerto in Australia, catches the balance between jazz and Adams nicely, and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson fares well in both scores. Recommended for anyone interested in Adams.

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