ADÈS Asyla. Brahms. Polaris
Any route taken through the music of Thomas Adès sooner or later must confront the irresistible force and power of the composer’s orchestral ‘trilogy’ – Asyla, Tevot and Polaris – contained here on a single disc for the first time.
Separated by just over a decade, Asyla and Polaris (Voyage for Orchestra), inhabit very different sound worlds. Brash, brilliant, loud and dirty, Asyla vacillates between revelling in the postmodern rubble and rallying against it. In contrast, Polaris represents a journey’s end – a strange, luminous outpost at the galaxy’s edge. Somewhere in between, the ambitious, complex, monolithic Tevot draws on the visceral power of Asyla while looking ahead to the spectral sonorousness and sensuousness of Polaris.
Adès and the LSO’s rendition of Asyla is generally more measured than Rattle’s excellent recording with the CBSO (EMI, 7/99). The latter’s exuberantly carnivalesque approach to the third movement, Ecstasio (Adès’s vivid flirtation with electronic dance culture), is replaced by a psychologically more disturbing, claustrophobic and unsettling interpretation. Maybe the drugs don’t work after all.
The LSO come into their own in Tevot and Polaris. Adès makes more of Tevot’s abrupt juxtapositions than Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, 4/10), giving full rein to the work’s almost wilful appropriation of extreme registers and dynamic contrasts. The orchestra is also given time to ease into the slow middle section. As a result, the aerial view afforded by Tevot’s powerful ending – a panoramic sweep typical of Adès – is more convincing. The sense of an ending is more pronounced. Polaris provides the highlight, however, with the LSO’s more fluent execution eclipsing Markus Stenz and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO Live, 8/14). Baritone Samuel Dale Johnson joins the orchestra for Brahms, Adès’s witty setting of words by Alfred Brendel, where – to paraphrase the composer himself – one is perhaps too aware of Adès playing around with bits of Brahmsian material.
Containing brilliantly incisive booklet-notes (a rare thing these days) by Paul Griffiths, this is an excellent recording all round, with the LSO responding superbly well to the many technical and expressive challenges posed in performing Adès’s orchestral music.