Adès Living Toys
This new collection fully lives up to the excited expectations aroused by the first disc of Ades’s music (EMI, 6/97) but does not suggest that he is yet at all ready to settle down into a predictable style. The five pieces here are as different as can be, all suggesting a composer as delightedly surprised by his prodigal inventiveness as we are. Arcadiana, for example, is a seven-movement string quartet whose central and longest movement (not very long: just over four minutes) contains an extraordinary range of precisely imagined, highly original textures and yet in its penultimate section can settle to a serene and wonderfully beautiful adagio whose sound and mood can only be conveyed by the adjective ‘Beethovenian’. Far more overtly, the engaging Sonata da caccia uses elements (melodic phrases, ornaments, the way instruments ‘answer’ each other) that are very directly derived from Couperin, but the sensibility is entirely modern, even when you strongly suspect that this or that phrase is a note-for-note quotation. I began listening, by the way, without access to the notes accompanying this disc, and initially had no idea what the titles of these pieces and their constituent movements meant. It is some tribute to Ades’s imagination that I found this no hindrance at all. As I said of his first collection, his is an imagination that you can trust.
Living Toys has a quite Birtwistle-like sense of ritual to it, though more lyrical, quite frequently with a tangible jazz element (one almost literal quotation that I can’t quite put my finger on). The Origin of the Harp is a dark, dramatic chamber tone-poem. Gefriolsae me, for male voices and organ, is a brief but impressive motet to Middle English words. All five pieces are finely performed, all are further evidence of a rich, still developing but clearly exceptional talent. Arcadiana, with its exquisite textures and sheer melodic richness, is perhaps Ades’s finest achievement so far, a work throughout aware to the point of overt reference of the musical past (including the string quartet’s past) but renewing that past with astonishing freshness. What a talent!'