Classical home listening: John Adams Collected Works

·2 min read

• Stravinsky was loyal to Columbia, Britten to Decca, Stockhausen to Deutsche Grammophon. Composers’ relationships with record labels are more than a commercial matter: they act as an invaluable archive for posterity. The American composer John Adams (b.1947) signed exclusively with Nonesuch in 1985, at the start of his career. Now the company has issued a 40-disc box set of all his recorded works across four decades (including five recordings from other labels, such as Yuja Wang playing the piano concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon).

John Adams Collected Works (Nonesuch) is a heavyweight aural document of the close association, with space left in the box for future recordings of a still prolific composer. (You’ll want to add his new opera Antony and Cleopatra after its world premiere in San Francisco in September.) Many of these discs will already be in the collections of his fans, notably his operas Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic, or classics such as Grand Pianola Music, Shaker Loops and Harmonielehre.

The composer Nico Muhly, writing in the booklet, makes a sharp observation: “It’s overly convenient to say that John’s music has ‘changed a lot’ over his career … but it is also great fun to see the extent to which he has, in fact, moved house a great deal, and in a satisfyingly non-linear way … John has moved from place to place out of an artistic need, happily jettisoning the trappings of one place, knowing he can get them back again.”

The bonus of new essays and writings – from the composer Timo Andres as well as Muhly, the soprano Julia Bullock and Nonesuch’s chairman emeritus, Bob Hurwitz, responsible for forging the relationship – as well as less mainstream works you may have overlooked, makes this set well worth the investment.

• Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, as disturbing and impassioned as when it was premiered in 1904, is broadcast from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, starring the soprano Lianna Haroutounian and tenor Freddie De Tommaso, conducted by Dan Ettinger. Next Saturday, Radio 3, 6.30pm/BBC Sounds.

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