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 Recording of the Week  Thomas Adès

My first real contact with the music of Thomas Adès was about ten years ago with a recording of Asyla, which he had written for Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I had recently finished my undergraduate degree and my wife was a freelance violinist with the orchestra. I remember her coming home from the recording sessions of the work quite blown away by its power. Simon Rattle is a big fan of Adès who he describes as the most 'extravagantly talented' of today’s composers, and Rattle had such belief in the work that he also chose it to open his first concert as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002. It went down very well in Berlin (as it had done in Birmingham) where the huge variety of textures, styles and orchestration clearly made a big impression on the audience.

Thomas Adès
Thomas Adès

Thomas Adès (who incidentally celebrates his 39th birthday today) has risen on the world scene at remarkable pace. He has had festivals of his music in London, Paris and Salzburg and his works appear in all the major cities played by the top orchestras. His second opera The Tempest was revived at Covent Garden three years after its premiere (again to sold out houses) and has since toured other cities around the world. He is very lucky to have a major record label behind him and virtually all his significant works are available on excellent recordings from EMI.

Nearly ten years after Asyla, Adès wrote his second piece for Simon Rattle - Tevot, commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker and Carnegie Hall and premiered back in 2007. Finally, it has just been released on CD, and it is well worth the wait. Unlike Asyla, which was in four movements, Tevot is single movement work, about twenty-two minutes long. It is truly colossal, scored for a huge orchestra and plays a lot on extremes. The instruments are frequently required to play at the limits of their range and technical ability, while musical contrasts (between chaos and consolation, harmony and dissonance, clarity and complexity) fuel the dramatic structure of the work. As with most of Adès’ works, you can hear a number of influences, ranging from German romanticism and British twentieth century music to contemporary dance rhythms and world music, but what really shines through is Adès’ ability to orchestrate. He creates an orchestral palate which even Debussy struggles to match and while the instruments are stretched to their extremes they’re never asked to play in a style which doesn’t suit their natural strengths which makes it sound all the more powerful.

Tevot is coupled with three other recent orchestral compositions by Adès, the most notable being the Violin Concerto ‘Concentric Paths’ which was dedicated to and performed by Anthony Marwood. It was released as a download only back in 2007 and received a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, but here receives its first release on CD. I think it is a superb work, and in time has a good chance of establishing itself in the standard repertoire.

Adès - Tevot, Violin Concerto & Couperin Dances

Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle, Anthony Marwood (violin), Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Thomas Adès

“Pride of place among these live performances of Adès’s recent music goes to Tevot, a magnificent orchestral journey through chaos to consolation, exultantly delivered...The Violin Concerto, dominated by circling patterns and Anthony Marwood’s expressive violin, is almost as powerful.”/i The Times, 20th February 2010 ****

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC