Adams Shaker Loops

Bristling energy to aching desolation: a bargain survey that has real impact

Author: 
Andrew Farach-Colton

Adams Shaker Loops

  • Short Ride in a Fast Machine
  • (The) Wound-dresser
  • Shaker Loops
  • Berceuse élégiaque

This attractive Adams disc presents several different facets of the composer’s musical personality. There are two major offerings: Shaker Loops, originally composed for string septet but played here in the 1983 version for string orchestra, is a masterpiece of Adams’s early, minimalist phase; The Wound-Dresser (1988) is based on Walt Whitman’s gruesomely graphic reminiscences of his days nursing wounded soldiers in the American Civil War.

In Shaker Loops, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s strings sound rough at times – the Orchestra of St Luke’s play more luminously under the composer’s direction – but Marin Alsop paces the work with a sure hand and the performance bristles with energy. Orchestral playing is also occasionally coarse in The Wound-Dresser. The trumpet line beginning at 7’00” seems awkward, for example – though in such aching, desolate music, this isn’t necessarily a liability. Baritone Nathan Gunn intones Whitman’s words with a firm, almost plush, tone that conveys masculinity and maturity, and his diction is excellent; his approach to the text is somewhat generalised in intensity, however, especially when compared with Sanford Sylvan, who recorded the work with Adams, and whose detailed response makes Whitman seem a more genuinely wise and empathetic figure.

Alsop and the orchestra weave a delicate yet heady nocturnal atmosphere in Adams’s arrangement of Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque, whose misty, dark harmonies sound surprisingly close to those in The Wound-Dresser, and put the pedal to the floor for Short Ride in a Fast Machine. All in all, this vividly recorded, inexpensive disc should make a compelling introduction to Adams’s music.

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