John Adams: Chamber Symphony  – Common Tones in Simple Time  – Son of Chamber Symphony 
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose (conductor)
Recording: Fraser Hall at WGBH studios, Boston, Massachusetts (August 15, 2014) [1, 3] and Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts (March 10, 2015)  – 66’35
BMOP/sound 1078 – Booklet in English
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) was formed in 2008 by conductor Gil Rose. They specialize in music of the 20th and 21st century, many of the compositions, like their recent recording of ballets by Elliott Carter, are rarities in both the concert hall and recordings. BMOP’s latest release of John Adams’ “Chamber Symphony” – comprised of 1992 Chamber Symphony, followed by, Common Tones in Simple Time (1979) and Son of Chamber Symphony (2007) – is a compelling mini-retrospective of Adams’ expansive orchestral template.
In the CD booklet, Adams writes, “When acoustical issues have been sorted out, the sound of a dozen or more skilled soloists can afford a musical experience.” Through that compositional lens, Adams “combines the intimacy with the breadth and scale of a full orchestra.” Conductor Rose and 45 BMOP musicians bring both the breadth and scale of these compositions in this collection.
Adams’ “Mongrel Airs”, the first movement of Chamber Symphony, is an acoustic collision of woodwind and strings lines on top and percussive chambers roiling underneath. When played by this orchestra, it is a thrilling eight-minute orchestral rumble.
The second movement is titled “Aria with Walking Bass”, an after burn of a lurching bass line, percolating vibes and breathless chromatic flute. Its acceleration and fade to black and back again takes on different vistas. The third movement finale, “Roadrunner” (the bird featured on the album cover) which Adams notes, is inspired by the famous cartoon character who is the speed demon who out runs every foe and can stop on an arrested 16th note, and BMOP plays this mach speed movement for all its worth without going off the cliff.
The second piece, in contrast, is the adagio trajectory of Common Tones in Simple Time, a hypnotic trippy 21-minute single movement work, bursting with primary Adams orchestral colors that mystically appear and vanish, fade out or morph together. Sound clouds and tonal seed sounds, punctuated by radiant brass heralds. Its amorphous time out of time continuum evokes an undiscovered vista of sound and wanderlust.
Son of Chamber Symphony starts with lashing strange flutes and furious flights. A matrix of percussion, a swarming tremulous violin line, catapulting drum heralds and the urban sensuality of jazz orchestral sounds of Ellington, Gershwin and Bernstein. Adams composed this in the same year as his opera, Doctor Atomic.
The first movement opens with jagging strings bursting around a brass and percussion fuselage that slams into lashing waves of woodwinds, a fevered piano, and a feral bongo – it is abstract Adams unleashed.
The second movement consists of strumming strings and a drifting flute solo as the cello pulses underneath it, painting intimate and recoiling string lines (à la André Caplet), laced with distant crystal bells. The final movement is igniting with Adams percussive overdrive and bolts of rhythmic strings.
For those who don’t already revel in Adams’ music, this recording is a good place to start. This album showcases BMOP’s technical artistry as well as their palpable ensemble energy, something that often isn’t present on orchestra studio recordings. Credit also goes to the audio engineers Joe Gordon and Peter Atkinson for the full dimension sound achieved in these sessions.
Lewis J. Whittington