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Orchestral Works by Adès

available at Amazon
T. Adès, Tevot / Concentric Paths (inter alia), Various Ensembles

(released on March 23, 2010)
EMI 4 57813 2 | 66'43"
Since hearing The Tempest, the recent opera by Thomas Adès, in Santa Fe, we have been impressed with the strength of the British composer's musical ideas. These four recent pieces give more reasons to admire his inventive orchestration: if none of them turns out to be a masterpiece, they are endlessly fun and varied listening. We heard Adès himself conduct his violin concerto ("Concentric Paths") with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a couple years ago, with the same violinist, Anthony Marwood (who premiered the work), featured here in a worthy performance with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The theme that links the three movements is circular motion, leading Adès toward a sort of minimalist style, using motoric repetition in overlapping cycles or phases. The same ensemble also offers a minor work worth hearing, Three Studies from Couperin, a 2006 adaptation of three of François Couperin's keyboard pieces (Les amusemens, Les Tours de passe-passe, and L'Âme-en-peine), reconceived for orchestra as music that somehow remains Couperin but becomes thoroughly modern in color. For example, the first movement, cast as a sort of wheezy old squeezebox, just runs out of power and slows almost to a complete halt in an extreme, drawn-out rallentando Adès added; the second spins in a sort of Coplandesque Shaker dance, with the embellishments on the repeats allowing Adès to explode the original reserved orchestration from within.

Last year Hannu Lintu led a performance of the Overture, Waltz, and Finale from Powder Her Face with the National Symphony Orchestra, an augmented version of those three parts of the composer's first opera, on the scandalous life of the Duchess of Argyll. The performance on this disc, by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, is the least polished of the three ensembles featured here, but something about the slightly slipshod exuberance of the performance suits the boozy humor of these fizzy, jazz-filled episodes. The main work on the disc, a single-movement tone poem called Tevot, reached my ears for the first time in this gargantuan performance by the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle. The title is taken from the Hebrew word for 'ark,' and Adès has said that the image that he had in mind was of the earth floating through space as an ark for humankind. As such it is a sort of post-Straussian exploration of the massiveness of space, with the orchestra deployed to circumscribe something infinite. Hints of Britten's sea interludes in Peter Grimes are heard here and there, but much of the language, especially exploiting treble and bass extremes, is now easily thought of as pure Adès. It is a grand, calamitous noise.

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