John Adams: Naive and Sentimental Music

Esa-Pekka Salonen / Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra

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John Adams: Naive and Sentimental Music Review

by Allen Schrott

Naïve and Sentimental Music seems at first like a glib, almost self-deprecating title for a large-scale orchestral work. But that would be beneath John Adams, who has a knack for infusing his appealing soundscapes with weight and philosophy. In fact, Adams uses the word "sentimental" here to convey self-awareness, even self-consciousness. And so the title -- and indeed, the entire piece -- is a deliberate study in the balance and integration of opposites: innocence with perspective, spontaneity with design, and beauty with rhetoric. The result is a tremendous success; Naïve and Sentimental Music is a wealth of ideas sculpted into musical form and yet the listener needs no knowledge of these ideas to hear it to its fullest effect. Since Esa-Pekka Salonen gave Adams the commission that led to Naïve and Sentimental Music, it is no surprise that he and the L.A. Philharmonic deliver an outstanding performance on this Nonesuch release. Every layer of sound is beautifully textured and realized, from the strings -- sometimes icy, sometimes agitated -- to the evocative percussion that dots the entire score with color. David Tanenbaum's amplified guitar adds an especially interesting element to the second movement, "Mother of the Man"; he, Salonen, and the engineers should be complimented for integrating the guitar into the score while still allowing it to stand apart as an individual in a bigger world. The first and third movements are equally successful, each taking on its distinctive mood and character while at the same time feeling like part of a greater whole. This is, in every way, an outstanding recording.

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