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The disc opens with a vivid performance of A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, a sure fire opener, [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:00]. This is followed by a highly contrasting work, The Wound-Dresser -- Adams' 1988 setting of Whitman's poem describing his experiences as a nurse during the civil war. The poem is quite harrowing with its clear descriptions of the war-wounded. Adams' setting gives priority to the vocal line [listen -- track 2, 1:20-2:33], delivered here with firmness and clarity by Nathan Gunn. A discreet string accompaniment is the vocal line's main support; only half-way through do we start to hear a prominent trumpet in passages which are reminiscent of Ives' The Unanswered Question [listen -- track 2, 7:00-7:52], without ever achieving that work's sense of chilling otherness.

I must confess that I was disappointed with The Wound-Dresser. The piece was written for Sanford Sylvan, the baritone who created the title role in Nixon in China. On this disc Gunn's delivery is masterly when it comes to the clarity of the text, but somehow the intensity of meaning eludes him; though this might be the fault of Adams himself, as his accompaniment is discreet to a fault, lacking the gripping intensity of his more dramatic works. One element of the text seems to elude everyone entirely; Whitman's clear homo-erotic sympathy with the dying young men. In particular, the final lines of the piece, Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested, Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips are delivered in an unsatisfactorily matter of fact fashion.

The Wound-Dresser is followed by something of a curiosity, the most recent item on the disc dating from 1991, Adams' orchestration of Busoni's Berceuse Elegiaque. This demonstrates Adams' talent for atmospheric orchestration and takes us into a haunting, French-inflected world.

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Copyright © 27 March 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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