Adams: City Noir & Other Orchestral Works / Alsop, ORF VRSO

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John Adams’ City Noir was inspired by the cultural and social history of Los Angeles, with the composer himself calling it ‘an imaginary film score’, while Fearful Symmetries exemplifies his steamroller motor rhythms. The album ends with a capricious ‘Spider Dance’ of memorable rhythmic drive – a work dedicated to Marin Alsop who leads the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in these performances.


Marin Alsop has been quietly championing John Adams abroad—and now at the Met Opera conducting his El Nino— for decades. A new Naxos recording with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra demonstrates her flair and feeling for his distinctive idiom. City Noir, premiered by the LA Phil in 2009, is a vivid, multi-textured score inspired by mid-20th century urban California. With its jazz inflections and brooding canvases, the debt to the City of Angels and film noir are equally clear. This is the work’s third recording but well worth acquiring for Alsop’s theatrical bite and detailed interpretation. Punchier than Robertson and livelier than Dudamel (though Robertson’s ravishing sonics make for essential listening), she holds the attention with a sure eye for the work’s architectural twists and turns. The companion piece is Fearful Symmetries from 1988, one of Adams’s most infectious scores and yet only receiving its second outing on disc. Alsop takes the chugging basic pulse a tad faster than the composer’s own recording without sacrificing any of the infinite variety to be found in Adams’s orchestral details. It’s a joyous, carefree work and beautifully recorded. The same goes for the recorded premiere of Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance. Happily rehabilitated after getting the chop from Girls of the Golden West, this six-minute essay in wriggling cross rhythms is laced with sardonic wit.

-- Musical America (Clive Paget)

John Adams’s City Noir has been pretty well represented on disc in the fifteen years since its 2009 premiere: Marin Alsop’s new recording of the score with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony is the work’s fourth. In general, this celebration of the city of Los Angeles benefits from her approach. It’s swift and characterful...its structure emerges nicely intact in Alsop’s hands. The central “The Song is for You” boasts a series of idiomatic solos (especially from alto saxophone and trombone), at times seeming to channel Gershwin. [The] ORF’s woodwinds, trumpets, and jazz drummer really shine here. By about any measure, this is some brash and chill Adams.

Even more welcome is the pairing’s account of Fearful Symmetries, a half-hour-long study in rhythm and texture that’s only been recorded once before. Granted, that earlier release was led by the composer and it’s aged well. But Alsop’s new take is downright invigorating. The conductor brings a strong sense of drive to the music, drawing out a beautiful blend of colors – from invitingly swooning saxophone quartet playing to unexpected synthesizer colors – from her forces. What’s more, hers is a reading that manages to vigorously illuminate the sophistication of Adams’s compositional language, circa 1988. It’s a keeper.

-- The Arts Fuse

Product Description:

  • Release Date: April 05, 2024

  • Catalog Number: 8559935

  • UPC: 636943993521

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century, Contemporary

  • Composer: John Adams

  • Conductor: Marin Alsop

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra


  1. City Noir

    Composer: John Adams

    Ensemble: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Marin Alsop

  2. Fearful Symmetries

    Composer: John Adams

    Ensemble: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Marin Alsop

  3. Girls of the Golden West: Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance

    Composer: John Adams

    Ensemble: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra