Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Adams Honours German Symphonist

Thirty years separate the two orchestral works by John Adams recorded here by the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas and the composer. Grand Pianola Music of 1982 exhibits in the chugging minimalist style with which Adams made his name. It evokes the 1980s when the USA, with its passion for automation, created a way out of modernist complexity in the pulsing, conveyor belt repetition of simple chords. Indubitably modern, but determinedly regressive. Grand Pianola Music requires no mechanised keyboard, but the gently hammering pianists' hands imitate the computer's pulsing cursor and the dadaist dada-ing of Synergy's wordless singers subliminally suggests the madness of the present age. Beethoven is briefly, mistily present in Grand Pianola Music, but completely to the fore in Absolute Jest, written in 2012 by the 65-year-old. He calls it a twenty-five minute scherzo and it is that, as well as an admitted act of plagiarism in the quotes and the senior composer's  student game of identify-the-source. Melodically, it is all Beethoven, albeit with Adams' ironic, playful and irreverent distortions. The minimalist steady tapping reappears in the last movement and the eerie out-of-tune piano of the conclusion is perhaps an absolute jest in the sense of the last laugh.