Pianist Yuja Wang at the Hollywood Bowl
Pianist Yuja Wang at the Hollywood Bowl © Getty

The coronavirus lockdown is playing havoc with the release of new recordings. Difficulties in getting discs manufactured and distributed means that digital download has become the main channel of distribution, while the release dates for physical discs keep getting pushed into the future.

For the time being, this live recording of John Adams’s new piano concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, is digital only. A vinyl disc and an eVideo are currently promised for August. At just 30 minutes, the download version focuses simply on the concerto, with the addition only of China Gates, Adams’s short piano solo from way back in 1977.

Album cover of 'Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?' by John Adams

The playful minimalism of those early years has given way to music that is more demanding and ambitious. The new concerto opens by sending Yuja Wang, the soloist here (as at the premiere), into the boxing ring for three rounds against the devil. Fists fly as pianist and orchestra trade blows in a rhythmically pugnacious stand-off, which hardly lets up in energy until near the very end. Wang’s hands flash up and down the keyboard with brilliance.

From there the music relaxes somewhat as it sinks into a slow, atmospheric night piece, followed gradually by a return of rhythmic patterns, now malevolent and bumptious, as if the devil’s superior smile is glinting through. Despite the title, there are not many good tunes to be heard, but the concerto certainly packs a punch.

Keeping the original team together, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel provide high-octane support, and Wang follows up her scintillating finger-work in the concerto with a sparkling account of China Gates.

★★★★☆

John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?’ is released by DG

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