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'String Poetic' winds up with John Adams' increasingly popular Road Movies (1995), evoking spectacular landscapes of a road trip out West. '40% Swing', the vivid third movement, hints of bluegrass, with excitable fiddling, and according to Adams himself is 'for four-wheel drives only.'

Listen -- Adams: 40% Swing (Road Movies)
(track 14, 3:53-4:55) © 2008 Cedille Records

Adams continues: 'The title Road Movies is total whimsy, in a "swing" mode -- the second and fourth of every group of four notes are played slightly late).

'Relaxed Groove takes us down a not unfamiliar road. Material is recirculated in a sequence of recalls that suggest a rondo form.

'Meditative is a simple meditation (reverie) of several small motives, a solitary figure in an empty desert landscape.

'40% Swing for four wheel drives only, is a big perpetual motion machine. On modern MIDI sequencers, the desired amount of swing can be adjusted with almost ridiculous accuracy. 40% provides a giddy, bouncy ride, somewhere between an Ives ragtime and a long rideout by the Goodman Orchestra, circa 1939.'

Road Movies, commissioned by the Library of Congress, was first performed by Robin Lorentz (violin) and Vicky Ray (piano) in the Kennedy Centre, Washington (23 October 1995). It has been programmed frequently ever since; perhaps most recently with Midori (violin) and Charles Abramovic (piano) at St Luke's, London (8 May 2008).

On disc it's also available in all Adams recitals with Canadian-born concert violinists; James Ehnes (32) on Black Box Classics and Leila Josefowicz (31) on Nonesuch.

I hasten to add the dazzling Koh duo is as 'roadworthy' as either of the above.

So there you have it; for 70+ minutes of sweet and sour 'pizzaz and pleasure', String Poetic is just the thing -- a cross-section of approachable, musical, 20th century modernity and an irreproachable tour de force for Koh and Uchida.

'Go to the top of the class, Cedille!'

Copyright © 2 July 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


String Poetic - American Works - a 21st century perspective

CDR 90000 103 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 73'45" 2008 Cedille Records

Jennifer Koh, violin; Reiko Uchida, piano

Jennifer Higdon (born 1962): String Poetic (2006; first recording) (Jagged Climb; Nocturne; Blue Hills of Mist; Maze Mechanical; Climb Jagged); Carl Ruggles (1876-1971): Mood (1918); Lou Harrison (1917-2003): Grand Duo (1988) (Prelude; Stampede; A Round (Annabel & April's); Air; Polka); John Adams (born 1946): Road Movies (1995) (Relaxed Groove; Meditative; 40% Swing)


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