JACK Quartet / Hans Jørgen Jensen / Northwestern University Cello Ensemble

John Luther Adams: The Wind in High Places

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The music of Alaska-based John Luther Adams is minimal, but not minimalist, produced with a great economy of sound resources but showing definite shapes. This pair of string quartets and one piece for "cello choir" makes a good introduction to the music of this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, whose works often show a strong connection to the natural world. The title work, The Wind in High Places, relies exclusively on harmonics and on tones played on open strings; the composer said he "treats the string quartet as a large, 16-stringed harp," adding unhelpfully that if he could have found a way to make the music without having the players touch the instruments, he would have. More effective than this rather gimmicky concept is Four Canticles of the Sky, the cello work, depicting sundogs and other celestial phenomena, and played here by the 45 cellos of the Northwestern University Cello Ensemble. These four short pieces use the dense polyphony involved to great effect, as does the final string quartet Dream of the Canyon Wren, introduced by a very unusual birdsong appoggiatura that is developed over the course of the work and sharply delineated by the members of the JACK Quartet. Despite its simplicity, the thematic material in Adams' music is not neutral, and listeners will tend to remember these pieces, especially the last two, long after they're heard. Recommended for anyone interested in new directions in contemporary chamber music.

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