American Classics - John Adams: Complete Piano Music

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Because John Adams' small yet substantial solo and duo piano output, succinctly described by my colleague Victor Carr Jr, has been so well served on disc, each new release necessarily becomes more vulnerable to comparison. Fortunately, pianist Ralph van Raat displays an innate affinity for the composer's idioms, be it China Gates' lyric beauty, Phrygian Gates' stamina-testing epic sprawl, or American Berserk's thorny, Ives-inspired ragtime allusions. Next to Gloria Cheng's chamber-like refinement and Emanuele Arciuli's extraordinary variety of color and touch, van Raat treats Phrygian Gates as an out-and-out virtuoso vehicle, with plenty of paragraphic sweep and brawny, roof-raising climaxes. Relate Cheng to Kempff, Arciuli to Michelangeli, and van Raat to Gilels, and you'll get my point.

Hallelujah Junction, with Maarten van Veen at the second piano, splits the difference between the aggressive, generously pedaled Andrew Russo/James Ehnes (Black Box) and the much leaner, crystal-clear Rolf Hind/Nicolas Hodges (Nonesuch) recordings. The ethereal impression van Raat conveys in China Gates' opening pages may have something to do with Naxos' slightly distant pickup, in contrast to the full-bodied detail BIS provides Jenny Lin's marvelous interpretation. Although I have yet to meet a China Gates recording I didn't like, on Nonesuch Nicolas Hodges' basic fast tempo and easily lilting inner rhythms appeal to me most of all.

To sum up, you can't go wrong with van Raat's strong performances, plus Naxos' modest cost and decent sonics. Just be aware that the more expensive Nonesuch reference compilation duplicates this repertoire in better sound, and adds a splendid performance of Road Games for violin and piano.

--Jed Distler,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559285

  • UPC: 636943928523

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: John Adams

  • Performer: Maarten Van Veen, Ralph van Raat


  1. Phrygian Gates

    Composer: John Adams

    Performer: Ralph van Raat (Piano)

  2. American Berserk

    Composer: John Adams

    Performer: Ralph van Raat (Piano)

  3. China Gates

    Composer: John Adams

    Performer: Ralph van Raat (Piano)

  4. Hallelujah Junction

    Composer: John Adams

    Performer: Ralph van Raat (Piano), Maarten Van Veen (Piano)