John Adams: Complete Piano Music
Ralph van Raat (with Maarten van Veen)
Regular readers will know that I’m a keen supporter of musical minimalism. This is never more true than when it comes to the piano as a solo instrument. I have to own up – the less I hear of it, the better!
I love the playing of such virtuosi as Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul but freely admit I’d much rather hear them in the context of an equally accomplished ensemble than have to endure them playing with themselves.
It’s a good 10 years since I raved about Philip Glass’s ‘Solo Piano’ album, so I think it’s that’s possibly long enough to be able to listen to John Adams’s equivalent without too much prejudice. Unfortunately this rendering is not played by the composer himself but, hey, you can’t always have everything you want all at once, and there again Glass is actually well known as a keyboardist whilst Adams is more renowned as a conductor.
One has to accept that this collection of 4 compositions can accurately be described as Adams’s complete piano work at present, but it’s hard to believe that such an active living composer will stop just there so the title has to be a work in progress, I guess.
But the heartening thing is the amount of ground covered in the 4 works. It ranges in mood from the ponderously serious to the wildly celebratory. Unlike Glass, and as usual with Adams, he does not stick to the Post-Minimalist brief, but takes in plenty of recognisably tonal configurations, as illustrated in Phrygian Gates, the opening track, in his impulse to be both exciting and expressive. His jazz influences comes to the fore in American Berserk and Hallelujah Junction (a piece for 2 pianos). The latter displays all the bustling urban colour of Gershwin and the moody black and white glamour of the 1940s Hollywood filmset. China Gates, an apparently more Minimilistic work, obviously relates to Nixon in China and The Chairman Dances. It is quietly meditative but, sadly, is over almost before one realises it’s started!
So, yes, I was just about ready to accept a new solo piano CD into my collection. I’m so happy that such an appropriate offering came along at just the right moment.