ADES In Seven Days; NANCARROW Study for Player Piano 6 & 7
The London Sinfonietta’s new association with Signum Classics continues with the first recording of Thomas Adès’s In Seven Days. Described as a ‘Piano Concerto with Moving Image’, this half-hour piece is also a video-ballet in seven continuous movements that evoke the Creation story in sound and vision. A sombre though translucent prelude depicts ‘Chaos-Light-Dark’, piano then coming to the fore in the animated ‘Separation of the waters into sea and sky’ and intermezzo-like ‘Land-Grass-Trees’. The central ‘Stars, Sun, Moon’ brings the most sustained and intense music, then an elaborate (texturally at least) fugue segues ‘Creatures of the Sea and Sky’ and ‘Creatures of the Land’ in a gradual build-up to the final section, ‘Contemplation’. This alludes to earlier ideas from a more tranquil perspective, albeit with a hint of the opening to suggest a sense of closure.
Evocative without being merely descriptive, In Seven Days is a highly cohesive work that understatedly fulfils its intention. The piano-writing is expertly integrated into the ensemble, Nicolas Hodges amply exploiting the judicious range of timbral possibilities, with the caveats that the whole feels no more than the sum of its parts, nor does the overall variation process have quite the cumulative impact its subject matter leads one to expect. Tal Rosner’s video designs are a pleasure to watch as they pursue various off-symmetrical guises: the fact that the six screens have, for DVD purposes, been reduced to a rectangular formation does not in itself limit them to a highly effective gloss on music which, when heard on CD, is no less ‘complete’ as a purely sonic entity.
Both formats include two of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for player piano – the rhythmically dextrous Sixth and the fantasia-like Seventh of the series – in Adès’s two-piano transcriptions that bring their complexity but also playfulness into explicit focus, with Sophie Clements’s discreet visuals a stylish complement. The DVD has a dialogue between Adès and Rosner, while sound and booklet-notes serve the music admirably. Whether In Seven Days is a harbinger of things to come or just a diverting novelty must be for each listener to decide.