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Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (2018) is not John Adams’ first piano concerto – the marginally longer Century Rolls (1997) or the earlier, briefer Eros Roll (1989) vie for that honour – but it is arguably the first not primarily influenced by the sound of the pianola (or player- piano) that suffused the two earlier concertante scores. Not that Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? is out of step with Adams’ earlier works, though it sits more surely within the traditional fast-slow-fast concerto format, the piano the central protagonist interacting with the orchestra in a kaleidoscopic array of sections and textures that together form a coherent and impressive whole.

To be sure, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? is not the deepest or grandest of piano concertos but it is a well-put- together work, another manifestation of Adams’ recent focus on the concerto form, as seen in the creation of Scheherazade 2 (termed a ‘dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra’ by the composer), a saxophone concerto (2013) and Absolute Jests ( for string quartet and orchestra, 2012). Twentieth-century gods hover over the three movements, Prokofiev perhaps foremost in the opening movement (‘Gritty, Funk, but in strict tempo’), Debussy in the central span (‘Much slower, gently relaxed’) and Stravinsky to a point in the final ‘Obsession/Swing’. It is terrifically played by Yuja Wang, wonderfully supported by Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Wang completes the album with a lovingly flowing rendition of China Gates (1997), a reminder in four-and-a-half minutes of Adams’ minimalist roots.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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