Notes and Editorial Reviews
It's understandable that Nonesuch would hold the release of John Adams' massive Naïve and Sentimental Music (recorded in 1999) in favor of the more recent (and even more massive) El Nino. After all, El Nino (a Christmas oratorio) certainly is the more populist work (and Adams has quite a large following among borderline classical listeners), while the complex and intense Naïve and Sentimental Music makes no such outreach. NSM could be described as a sort of tougher, meaner Harmonielehre, Adams' 1985 watershed orchestral work that was hailed as the "triumph of minimalism". Like the overtly symphonic Harmonielehre, NSM also is in three large movements; but where the earlier work
brimmed with seductive melodies and deliciously shimmering harmonies, this new one, with its fragmentary musical ideas and dissonant counterpoint, requires much more concentration and patience from the listener. That's not to say it's atonal--far from it--but neither is there much to get you humming along, at least the first time around.
The work's title, borrowed from Schiller, represents the two opposing modes of artistic creativity: Naïve--spontaneous, unconscious of any preexisting work; and Sentimental--fully aware of, and thus impeded by, what already has been created. Whether Adams has succeeded in expressing this dichotomy will be up to the listener to decide, but on purely musical terms he's come up with an affecting and quite involving composition.
The strumming guitar and harp at the opening of the first movement creates an idyllic atmosphere that soon becomes troubled as the music gets progressively darker and builds up the first of three massive crescendos (separated by brief interludes). The tutti passages are indeed ferocious, making this some of the more jarring music Adams has ever composed. The guitar returns for the elegiac and tuneful second movement, "Mother of the Man", which like Harmonielehre has an agitated middle section based on tortuously ascending chromatic scales. The finale "Chain to the Rhythm" lives up to its title by employing an insistent rhythmic pulse throughout (as does the first movement). Again there is a long crescendo, this time building to a crushing final climax that leaves the horns blaring into empty space.
Esa-Pekka Salonen, who premiered the work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, here leads the orchestra in a powerful yet highly polished performance that emphasizes Adams' glittering orchestration. If a concert broadcast with Adams leading the Chicago Symphony made a greater impression, it's no doubt due to that orchestra's more aggressive brass playing (the brass play a major role in both outer movements). No matter; anyone coming to this music for the first time via this recording is in for an experience that will provoke much thought and feeling, especially if they turn up the volume to get the full impact of Nonesuch's vividly realistic engineering. Naïve and Sentimental Music is definitely not a crowd pleaser in the manner of Adams' The Chairman Dances, but it's an important and stimulating work nonetheless.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
Naïve and Sentimental Music seems at first like a glib, almost self-deprecating title for a large-scale orchestral work. But that would be beneath John Adams, who has a knack for infusing his appealing soundscapes with weight and philosophy. In fact, Adams uses the word "sentimental" here to convey self-awareness, even self-consciousness. And so the title -- and indeed, the entire piece -- is a deliberate study in the balance and integration of opposites: innocence with perspective, spontaneity with design, and beauty with rhetoric. The result is a tremendous success; Naïve and Sentimental Music is a wealth of ideas sculpted into musical form and yet the listener needs no knowledge of these ideas to hear it to its fullest effect. Since Esa-Pekka Salonen gave Adams the commission that led to Naïve and Sentimental Music, it is no surprise that he and the L.A. Philharmonic deliver an outstanding performance on this Nonesuch release. Every layer of sound is beautifully textured and realized, from the strings -- sometimes icy, sometimes agitated -- to the evocative percussion that dots the entire score with color. David Tanenbaum's amplified guitar adds an especially interesting element to the second movement, "Mother of the Man"; he, Salonen, and the engineers should be complimented for integrating the guitar into the score while still allowing it to stand apart as an individual in a bigger world. The first and third movements are equally successful, each taking on its distinctive mood and character while at the same time feeling like part of a greater whole. This is, in every way, an outstanding recording.
-- Allen Schrott, AllMusic.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Naďve and Sentimental Music by John Adams
David Tanenbaum (Guitar)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1997-1998; USA
Date of Recording: 10/1999
Venue: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Length: 44 Minutes 19 Secs.
Notes: "Naive and Sentimental Music" was nominated for the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.
I. Naive and Sentimental Music
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