ADAMS, JOHN LUTHER: Dark Waves; Among Red Mountains; Qilyuan; Red Arc/Blue Veil. Stephen Drury, Yukiko Takagi, pianos; Scott Deal, Stuart Gerber, percussion. Cold Blue Music 26. 52 minutes.
I recently wrote in glowing terms about John Luther Adams’ hour-long for Lou Harrison, and I’ve had the same reaction to this release of shorter pieces for pianos and/or percussion on the Cold Blue Music label.
Dark Waves is an aptly titled piece for two pianos and electronic sounds. The piece moves through time in a series of swelling and receding sounds lurking in the lower registers of the pianos for most of the piece. The feeling is one of mesmerizing foreboding.
The solo piano piece Among Red Mountains, played here with ferocious commitment by Stephen Drury, is made from granitic shards of chords, always loud and distributed throughout the piano’s range. The piece is marked by the composer’s characteristic use of cross-rhythms, sometimes very clear on the surface of the music, sometimes buried in the texture. It’s an important part of what give this work its particular power.
The bass drum is one of my favorite instruments, so I was primed to like Qilyuan, which is scored for two of the beasts. Qilyuan includes rolling waves of sound (as in Dark Waves) as well as the cross-rhythms mentioned in regard to Among Red Mountains, with the addition of wonderfully conceived and executed stereo effects, as the sound of the drums moves from speaker to speaker. It would be exciting to hear in performance.
The final piece on this well-performed and sensitively recorded disc is Red Arc/Blue Veil, for piano, mallet percussion, and electronically processed sounds. It’s a lovely 12-minute meditation on sounds that grow into shimmering objects and then recede. John Luther Adams continues to grow as a composer, and this disc should contribute to his growing stature among active composers.