John Adams: Hallelujah Junction - A Nonesuch Retrospective

John Adams

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John Adams: Hallelujah Junction - A Nonesuch Retrospective Review

by Stephen Eddins

John Adams: Hallelujah Junction serves as a best-of collection that chronicles the composer's career and points up the breadth and depth of Adams' contribution to American musical life in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. It was released to coincide with the publication of Adams' memoir, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life. This kind of broad retrospective always raises the question about whether omissions leave gaping holes in its summation of a composer's work, and it must be said that this collection gets it right; the important works are covered, and when only a section or movement of a larger piece is chosen, it's the right one, most likely because the composer was involved in the selection process. Two of Adams' most widely performed and recorded pieces, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and The Chairman Dances, are not included, but in the grand scheme of things they are less significant than the works that are included. All of these performances come from the Nonesuch catalog. It doesn't hurt that Adams has an exclusive contract with Nonesuch to release the first recording of each work, and most of the performances here have the authority of being recorded with the composer's input.

The collection covers works beginning with Shaker Loops from 1978 (in its orchestral version) to A Flowering Tree, Adams' 2006 opera. Other highlights include the first movement of Harmonielehre, the third movement of Harmonium, the sublime third scene of the first act of Nixon in China (which Adams describes as one of the favorite things he has written), "Mongrel Airs" from the Chamber Symphony, the two opening choruses from The Death of Klinghoffer, two excerpts from El Niño, and "A New Day" from The Dharma at Big Sur. The performances are uniformly superlative. The sound, too, is consistently good, except for Harmonium, which, uncharacteristically for ECM, has balance problems. The recordings were made in various circumstances, which may require some adjustment of volume between tracks. For the newcomer to Adams, there's no better introduction to his work, and even fans who already own recordings of many of these pieces may find this survey an exhilarating reminder of the scope of the composer's imagination.

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