ADAMS Complete Piano Music
China Gates and Phrygian Gates from 1977-78 show Adams defining his own style as opposed to the classical minimalists such as Riley, Reich and Glass. China Gates is under six minutes and consistently delicate, while Phrygian Gates is a blockbuster of nearly 25. In Phrygian Gates the repetition is constant but there are also abrupt dislocations which function like film cuts – or the electronic gate which is meant by these titles. Nothing to do with the Great Wall or Nixon in China! The technique is the same in the larger concert works as well as the operas that have made Adams famous. There seems to be no obvious reason why one texture ends and another begins, but that’s the point of the discontinuity – and it goes back to Satie and Stravinsky.
American Berserk (2000) is the most recent piece and both words in the title are justified. From an early age Adams was surrounded by popular music and jazz on equal terms with classical composers. That background figures here with the crazier improvisational Ives and – very obviously – the swinging mechanical complexities of Conlon Nancarrow’s studies for player piano. As in Grand Pianola Music, it’s extravagantly entertaining.
In the exhilarating two-piano Hallelujah Junction (1996) Nancarrow again stands as godfather and you can hear the rhythmic hallelujahs as it belts on to its hilarious climax. The Dutch pianists, cleanly recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk, deliver everything with consistent aplomb. There are other acceptable recordings of individual pieces, such as Phrygian Gates included in an anthology by John McCabe (9/00), but Naxos wins yet again by offering all these pieces on one CD.