John Adams / London Sinfonietta, Chamber Symphony / Grand Pianola Music

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 08.05.11 in Reviews

Chamber Symphony/ Grand Pianola Music

John Adams / London Sinfonietta

This release features the most playful piece in the Adams canon. And, for a composer who often deals with Important Subjects, a little playfulness can be a welcome change. In this “Chamber Symphony,” Adams is goofing on Schoenberg (whose own “Chamber Symphony” was a craggy thing), by marrying some of his most atonal writing to the leg-tapping meter of what passes, in Adams’s mind, for cartoon music. On the whole, it’s a gas, including the almost-jazzy walking bass of the second movement. “Grand Pianola Music,” by contrast, occasionally feels like Adams on auto-pilot, though the array of forces — an orchestra with two pianos, two sopranos and a mezzo — occasionally lights upon revelatory moments unlike anything else in the composer’s repertoire.