Samuel Adler was born in Mannheim on 4 March 1928 and has lived in the United States since 1939. He is prolific as a composer (over 400 works) and as an author, and has taught extensively at notable American institutions, not least the Juilliard School from where he retired only in 2014. His own mentors included Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith and Walter Piston, and he studied conducting with Koussevitzky.
Having not previously heard any of Adler’s music, which given the quality of the pieces here is my loss, I started with Drifting On Winds and Currents. At nine minutes it’s a short work, but it is big in scope. It shimmers into life and maintains an impressionistic atmosphere and much expression until an agitated section arrives that has its Hindemith aspects (a composer regrettably consigned to the doldrums at present) and also recalls the music of William Schuman (not exactly over-programmed either). This “tempestuous” section that follows the “calm” beginning sustains the rest of the piece, compellingly, with intense expression as well as colourful and powerful orchestration, a subject Adler has written about.
In the middle of the disc is the Cello Concerto, composed in the late-1980s for Stephen Geber, principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. It has four concise movements and Adler is keen that soloist and orchestra are “equal partners”. The opening is rather sad, the cello lamenting, the large orchestra given to emotional outbursts. The second movement begins with percussion to herald a complete contrast, something swift and kaleidoscopic, with jazzy elements prompted by a drum kit and pizzicatos from double basses; the cellist has much to do. It’s another slow-fast arrangement for the final two movements, the first of them almost extemporised in its feel, the magical use of a celesta adding to a sense of wafting, and followed by optimistic music that exhibits a clear sense of direction and arrival. Maximilian Hornung is the master of some considerably challenging writing.
Samuel Adler completed his Sixth Symphony in 1985 to a Koussevitzky Foundation commission for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman, who wanted to delay the premiere to allow more time for preparation and adequate rehearsal. When Zinman stepped down as Music Director the Symphony had not been played and remained unheard until these Linn sessions.
It’s a terrific piece, more complex for the musicians than a listener, I suspect. The first movement (marked “Fast and with much excitement”) packs a real punch – not dissimilar to Christopher Rouse's music in its heightened and driving sensations and full-on scoring – and fully engages the intellect and the emotions. This is impassioned music that is concurrently constructed meticulously and developed. The slow movement is no less intense if chillier, with evocation and expression to the fore, and the Finale returns to fast, rhythmic and vivid – a propulsive, percussion-fuelled conclusion to an impressive Symphony.
Well, I’m sold, and have become an immediate admirer of Samuel Adler’s music – although the thought of back-tracking through his list of opuses (quite a few are recorded) is just a little daunting. Hats-off to Linn, the RSNO, Maximilian Hornung and José Serebrier for their collective enterprise, for exploring and sharing these scores with such conviction. The recorded sound is the equal of the dedicated performances that are so persuasive. A follow-up volume would be very welcome.