Adès Piano Works

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Adès Life Story

  • Catch
  • Darknesse visible
  • Still Sorrowing
  • Under Hamelin Hill
  • (5) Eliot Landscapes
  • Traced Overhead
  • Life Story

This is the most exciting collection of music by a young composer that I have heard for a very, very long while. Thomas Ades (born 1971) has not only the gift of seizing your attention with strange but ravishingly beautiful sonorities and then holding it with entrancingly mysterious inventions that allure the ear, he has the much rarer quality of inspiring utter confidence. Whatever he is doing, within a very few bars you trust him implicitly.
His style cannot be defined by simply describing any one of these pieces. Each solves a new problem or investigates a new scenario with such adroitness and completeness that each work seems a quite new and delightful adventure. In Still sorrowing the starting point is a piano whose central register is muted with a strip of plastic adhesive. The effect on those pitches is obvious: they are dulled to a sort of subdued drumming, but by observing the new light that this casts on the un-damped upper and lower registers Ades – this is not too much of an exaggeration – invents an entirely new and alluring instrument, or rather three of them: a glittering, coruscating ‘treble piano’, a tolling, gently pounding ‘bass piano’ and in the middle a subtle sort of muted gamelan. And he plays all three (he is a pretty formidable pianist) with poetry and wonder.
Catch is a game, in which a piano trio tempt and tease an off-stage clarinet; he eventually joins them in sober homophony, for this is a game with serious and lyrical substance as well as a jest. A similar but more ambiguous game is played in Under Hamelin Hill, where the piping toccata of one organist attracts two others to join him in co-operative apparent improvisation, but he is left alone for a shadowy soliloquy filled with shudders. Darknesse visible is a haunting meditation in which the presence of John Dowland is clearest where the music seems least like him: a magical illusion as well as a moving homage. In Life story the soprano is asked to imitate the manner of Billie Holliday in her wry reflection on a casual one-night encounter; it is the dark, searching piano that adds pity and bleakness to turn this into a riveting miniature opera. Traced overhead is filled with mysterious, glancing references to remembered piano music, but is grippingly coherent. And as if all this were not enough, in the Eliot settings that are his Op. 1, the 17-year-old Ades already proved himself a song-writer (subtle response to words, beautiful, singable lines, vivid keyboard imagery) of rare talent.
The performances are first-rate, as are the unobtrusively clean recordings. Recommended with the greatest possible enthusiasm: Ades is a composer whose gifts are so remarkable that it would be hard to exaggerate them.'

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