Classic Home Listening: John Adams Collected Works | Classical music

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 (1947) signed exclusively with Nonesuch in 1985, at the beginning of his career. Now the company has released a 40-disc box set of all of its recorded works over four decades (including five recordings from other labels, such as Yuja Wang playing the piano concerto, Does the devil have to 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 collaboration, with room left in the box for future recordings from a still prolific composer. (You want to add his new opera) Antony and Cleopatra after the world premiere in September in San Francisco.) Many of these discs will already be in his fans’ collections, especially his operas Nixon in ChinaKlinghoffer’s Death and Doctor Atomicor classics like Grand Pianola MusicShaker loops and harmony theory

Writing in the booklet, composer Nico Muhly makes a sharp remark: “It’s too easy to say that John’s music has ‘changed a lot’ throughout his career…but it’s also a lot of fun to watch in how much, in fact, he’s moved a lot, 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.

The bonus of new essays and writings—from both composer Timo Andres and Muhly, the soprano Julia Bullock, and Nonesuch chairman emeritus Bob Hurwitz, who is responsible for forging the relationship—and less mainstream works that you might overlook seen, this set is well worth the investment.

Kseniia Nikolaieva (Suzuki), Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San) and Freddie De Tommaso (Pinkerton) in Madama Butterfly.
Kseniia Nikolaieva (Suzuki), Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San) and Freddie De Tommaso (Pinkerton) at the Royal Opera’s Madama Butterfly. Photo: Yasuko Kageyama

Tosca’s madam butterfly, as disturbing and passionate as when it premiered in 1904, is broadcast from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with soprano Lianna Haroutounian and tenor Freddie De Tommaso, conducted by Dan Ettinger. This Saturday, Radio 3, 6.30 pm/BBC Sounds.

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