The Riley compositions will be a bit of a revelation to those who know him primarily from his "In C" and "Rainbows in Curved Air" days. His work here is much more nuanced, and frankly, interesting. The first work is an homage to John Lennon, using elements of "I am the Walrus". You won't be stuck with the Beatles tune in your head when you listen to this however, since the only really recognizable bit is that last 30 seconds. The other Riley work is a suite of 5 movements called "The Heaven Ladder, Book 7". The styles of the movements are quite varied from one to the other. Although we think of Riley as one of the minimalists, what you get here is a melange of styles. Here a bit that sounds like Debussy, there some Poulenc, and over there some Persichetti. Or a bit of Chick Corea. But Riley isn't mimicking these other composers -- the comparisons are only an attempt to give a flavor of what the music is like. One of the movements is an honest-to-goodness fugue.
The two pieces by Adams are much more in the minimalist vein, and for this listener, more satisfying -- the Riley pieces are in a rather more light-hearted mood. As Adams states in the liner notes, the "Gates" in the titles are derived from electronics, not door-like things. In both pieces he abruptly (but not disturbingly) shifts from one mode to another, like flipping a switch (or a "gate"). In the more ambitious of the two, Phrygian Gates, there is a great breadth of expression: tempo and dynamic changes abound. It is also quite complex, both structurally and technically. It takes some world-class technique to pull it off.
And Gloria Cheng-Cochran does just that. Her playing is not only technically flawless, but is also quite musical -- bringing out the nuances, carefully placing each note. For those who think of minimalism as rather dull at times, these performances might just change your mind. The playing brings out "melodic" ideas, middle voices, etc.
Lastly, a comment on the balance of the music: although there are 6 cuts by Riley and only 2 by Adams, the amount of time is much closer than that -- roughly half-and-half. The last track (by Adams) is 26 minutes long.
I must say I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this CD.