Adams Tromba Lontana; Violin Concerto; (The) Wound Dresser
In January‚ in the wake of postSeptember 11 criticism of his allegedly proterrorist opera‚ The Death of Klinghoffer‚ John Adams told The Daily Telegraph ‘art should have a substantial role during such a crisis. It should do more than comfort…It should help us examine our deepest selves’. The WoundDresser‚ a setting of verses by Walt Whitman‚ describes the suffering of combatants in another deeply traumatic episode in United States history‚ the Civil War.
Adams had already developed beyond the modified minimalism which made his name‚ but Whitman’s words drew him even further from the epic and rhetorical elements of exhilarating pieces like Grand Pianola Music and Harmonielehre towards the personal and uncertain tone familiar from his ‘political’ compositions. The almost unbearable melding of compassion and horror (WoundDresser is not for the squeamish) is couched in a richer yet less assertive harmonic language‚ dark chords swamping heavyhearted melodies. The 1989 studio recording features Sanford Sylvan as soloist‚ and I find his interpretation preferable to Maltman’s vibratoheavy reading. The distant trumpets of the orchestral fanfare‚ Tromba Lontana‚ sensitively realised by the BBC brass‚ form an apt prologue to this major work.
In the Violin Concerto 23yearold Leila Josefowicz has to shape up to Kremer’s benchmark recording‚ and she does so very creditably indeed. Cocommissioned by the New York City Ballet‚ the work was always intended to be choreographed‚ though it lacks the powerful pulse often associated with Adams. By then (1993) Adams had emphatically loosened the grip of conventional minimalist diatonic tonality: most dramatically in the first movement‚ the shifting sands of the harmonic ambience keep you constantly alert‚ not to say anxious‚ and at times they evoke the great jazz pianist and teacher Lennie Tristano as much as that other West Coast resident‚ Schoenberg. This recording rivals Kremer’s for interpretive sensitivity and technical beauty.