Beyond The Norm


Mythbuster would be a good subtitle for Gloria Cheng-Cochran's classic Telarc recording, Piano Music Of John Adams & Terry Riley. Those only minimally familiar with the piano music of these two era-defining American composers will find themselves surprised by how far afield they travel from the minimalist structures with which they are often associated.

Despite the fact that Riley's revolutionary In C inspired the minimalist movement, his music soon evolved in multiple directions. Some of the styles that he embraced are heard in Cheng-Cochran's world premiere recording of The Heavens Ladder, Book 7 (1994); its five movements draw as much from Riley's background in ragtime, jazz, and North Indian classical music as they do from minimalism.

The work's first and last movements, dedicated to Riley's just born twin grandchildren, Misha and Simone, could not be more dissimilar. The first is all high energy, the last a most tender and melancholic lullaby. In between come the fabulous Ragtempus Fugatis, with its references to Bach and far beyond; a Fandango on the Heaven Ladder that unites Spain and Satie; and the edgily romantic "Venus in '94." It's easy to love this music.

Even the earliest significant piano pieces by Adams show him using minimalism as a launching pad. His short China Gates (1977), a companion piece to the CD's 26-minute closing work, Phrygian Gates (1977-1978), sparkles and glistens with magical light. As for the longer work, its many variations and wide-ranging emotional impact give strong indication of Adams' future trajectory.