8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Thomas Adès has burst the cage of repetitive minimalism, embraced the 'big sounds' of the great post-romantic composers and incorporated much of the 20th century giants of composition and continues to produce works that are at once fascinating in construction but even more important, exceptionally exhilarating in performance. He seems to love going for big effects that push the current minimalist constraints to the edge and then makes fun of history and tradition while wallowing in it.
This excellent recording contains his Violin Concerto performed by Anthony Marwood - a work that seems to bind the solo violin into an obbligato with the orchestral fabric, each movement in this study of circles and orbits winds its way into an amalgam of intricately contrapuntal parts that are pure delight to hear: music that makes you think while at the same time entertains you.
The TEVOT has been well reviewed here and is a fine work that would require several hearings to appreciate it to the fullest: Sir Simon Rattle conducts it with conviction and a keen sense of structure. But the practically unmentioned joy of this CD is the section of excerpts from Adès' opera 'Powder Her Face', a very large scale orchestration (by Adès) of the Overture, Waltz, and Finale originally written for an orchestra of 15. The result is a series of sexy, sensual dances, a lot of tongue in cheek humor and huge dose of terrific fun. Thomas Adès is without a doubt one of our current finest composers. At a recent Los Angeles Philharmonic concert, serving as guest conductor, he conducted his new 'These Premises are Alarmed', excerpts from 'Powder Her Face' and the Violin Concerto (with Marwood) as the first half and then proved to the audience that he goes for the guts ball antics and bombast of Respighi's 'Feste Romane'. He proved his mettle! Grady Harp April 10
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Whatever you think of Thomas Adès (substance or mere hype?), credit - and praise - must go to EMI for its staunch support, from the very first steps, of this shooting star among composers. I can think of no other case in the history of recorded music where a label has given such a backup to a composer and from so early on in his development. Columbia with Stravinsky and Decca with Britten started much later in their respective composer's career (Stravinsky was already in his mid-fifties) and left gaps in the discography - minor ones with Stravinsky but some big ones with Britten (like his opera Gloriana). And, speaking of gaps, just think of DG and Henze.
But now, with this 8th instalment in a series of portraits begun in 1997, all of Adès' output has been documented on disc, except for his most recent compositions: "In Seven Days" for orchestra (2008) and "Lieux Retrouvés" for cello and piano (2009) (information retrieved from his publisher's website), and two offshoots from his opera the Tempest ("Scenes from The Tempest" and "Court Studies" for clarinet, violin, cello and piano).
These are the seven previous instalments, in chronological order of publication:
Début "Catch", Ades: Catch/Darknesse Visible/Still Sorrowing/Under Hamelin Hill/Five Eliot Landscapes/Traced OVerhead/Life Story, 1997 (a)
Debut "Living Toys", Thomas Adès: Living Toys, 1998 (b)
Adès - Powder Her Face / Gomez, V. Anderson, N. Morris, Bryson, Almeida Ensemble, Adès 1998
Asyla, Ades: Asyla, These Premises Are Alarmed, etc. / Rattle, et al, 1999, reissued as Ades: Asyla (c)
Thomas Adès: America: A Prophecy, 2004 (d)
Adès: Piano Quintet; Schubert: "Trout Quintet", 2005
Thomas Adès: The Tempest, 2009.
Due to the length limitations of these reviews, I'll send to the "comments" section the catalog of Adès' works and the indication of the CD on which they are documented (the present one is e). You will see that while the previous instalments barely tapped the new century (with the major exception of Adès second opera, The Tempest, which evidently monopolized his attention in the early 2000s), this new disc, with the post-Tempest compositions, is entirely Adès in the third Millenium - and in his mid-thirties.
Substance or hype then? I'd rather phrase the question: unique compositional personality or nothing to really distinguish Adès from the so many other composers that vie for recognition these days? Somewhere in between, I'd say. What I greatly enjoyed in the "early" Adès (not that anything that he is writing now can be considered "late") was the art which with he played with traditions without ever being bound to them, his unique knack for unexpected and ear-catching instrumental colors and combinations, his jagged contours that somehow always seemed entirely natural. Some of that is present in "Tevot", but some of it is also gone, I find. There are lush and mysterious atmospheres - try the beginning's deep, brooding, descending melody with the violin's high-pitched harmonics hovering above: it could be a slightly modernized version of Britten's Peter Grimes (and that Adès is Britten's true heir is something I've often remarked); but the music's deep wave-tides are both very effective and somewhat facile, I find, in their tonal anchoring. Another brief Britten reminiscence in the scherzando passage starting at 3:59, but it is more jagged and soon evolves into an awesome quasi-cacophony (at times not so far removed from Steven Martland's Babi Yar, Steve Martland: Babi Yar/Drill), once past a more affirmative and heroic passage at 5:12 that seems out of early Copland. Speaking of which, I hear more reminiscences here than usually with Adès - the presence of Janacek is also striking in the wild fanfares at 6:15 (again at 8:50) that seem straight out of the Sinfonietta and Glagolithic Mass. Then comes a more brooding and questing section at 9:03 - more deep tidal waves and more hushed and high-pitched violin harmonics - leading to a hackneyed pastoral theme first intoned by the flutes, and developing into a long section climaxing into a triumphant but somewhat corny statement; is Adès here trying to prove that he can also write like the populist Copland or Vaughan Williams or even Delius? I have nothing against pastoral or triumphant lyricism, but I question the interest of copying the time-worn formulas of others rather than inventing one's own. Still, Tevot is powerful and effective, often impressive even, although I don't quite hear Adès' unique originality.
There is more of that in the Violin Concerto, with its tense and dense lyrical violin line over an orchestral accompaniment that in the first movement, plays with the conventions of minimalism, but in typical Adès manner, never slave to it. The finale again brings back reminiscences - Szymanowski, Bartok, Stravinsky. These two outer movements are remarkably compact. The longer second movement in form of a Chaconne is ear-catching in its rugged and almost pointillistic orchestral accompaniment and again highly-charged lyrical violin.
The Three Couperin "Studies" (that's what Adès calls them but they are brilliant orchestrations in fact) and the sarcastic three movements from the opera "Powder her face", adapted here for large orchestra, are less significant, but they are entertaining.
One thing that made Adès such a hit was that, while evidently perfectly aware of and comfortable with even the most avant-garde compositional and instrumental techniques developed in the 20th Century and using them at will in his compositions, he always put them at the service of music that was eminently graspable and entertaining - at least for ears attuned to 20th and 21st Century music. The compositions featured here do not depart from thatt rule. But still, Adès started so strong, I'm not sure he is capable of maintaining the sense of surprise work after work. Well - Britten and Stravinsky did.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2010
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Is Thomas Ades the finest orchestrator working today? Whatever he is, he is a joy. He seems to get played rarely on this (U.S.) side of the Atlantic, but I would like to think his pieces are making their way into the performed repertoire and that I might hear Asyla or Living Toys or America live, sometime.... In the meantime, the recordings will have to do. The violin concerto is the highlight of this disc, but really everything on it is of the highest order. Tevot is a big, serious piece for full orchestra, while the Couperin studies are delightful and the little suite from the opera Powder Her Face is great fun.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
For years, Ades was hyped as the Next Great Hope of British music, usually on the basis of trendy, well-crafted bores. I found Powder Her Face, for example, both musically and, consequently, as morally empty as a supermarket tabloid, mainly because the music failed to give the characters any depth. On the other hand, The opera The Tempest showed a dramatic talent as fine as any since Britten. For me, Ades is a composer split.
We see this in the CD's program. The Couperin Studies are practically pointless. The liner notes praise the orchestration, but to me it sounds like listening to Couperin with your head under water. The Powder Her Face Dances points up the weak-sister music. Minus the sensationalist libretto, the Dances don't give you even the electricity of moral outrage.
On the other hand, the Violin Concerto strikes me as one of the best of the past 20 years -- up there with the Adams and the Higdon -- featuring a powerful chaconne slow movement. I admit I didn't see the point of Tevot's title (it's Hebrew for "arks" or musical bars), despite the liner notes' explanation, but the music, complex and magnificently expressive, sweeps aside that nit. It strikes me as Ades engaging with British musical history, among other things. One hears bits of Britten, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams, but turned to new expressive ends and in a new mix, as well as something entirely new that's Ades alone. The work ends memorably, on a fade, with a gorgeous trumpet line.
The performances are all a composer could ask for. We expect great things from Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, and we get them as they not only sail through the complexities of Tevot, but show the stature of the score. Ades gives himself a boost in the Violin Concerto, supported beautifully by violinist Anthony Marwood and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Paul Daniels has often moved me in his British music series on Naxos. He performances usually emphasize drama in the music, but not even he can lift the pastiche gewgaws that are the Powder Her Face Dances above the superficial. In the Couperin Studies, Ades the composer lets down the Ades the conductor. The four rather than five stars reflect my frustration with the entire program, despite the presence of, I think, two genuine masterpieces. On the other hand, the time-wasting fluff diluted my enjoyment. Without the Couperin and the PHF, I would have unhesitatingly given the disc the full five.
12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Perhaps I'm just not like most listeners. When I listen to a new composer, I want to be challenged. I want a language that forces me to make an effort; harmony that proceeds in new directions; time that moves differently. Just like meeting a fascinating person, I don't want to figure out the whole package right away. The great postwar generation that included Ligeti, Carter, Berio, Boulez, Kurtag and Lutoslawski is coming to a close. What is to follow?
I've been hearing about Thomas Ades for a while now, and I finally decided to give him a listen. My overall impression is like the old game of drop-the-needle. An LP would be placed on the turntable, cover hidden. The needle would be dropped at a random location on the record and the listener would attempt to identify the composer and perhaps the piece. In listening to this CD, I can't hear a voice that doesn't belong to another composer. In nearly all cases, I'd find myself wishing I was listening to that other composer.
"Tevot" begins promisingly enough. High busywork in winds and strings winds its way downward while a slower pattern emerges in the low register. After a few minutes it becomes clear that the busywork is simple distraction--not really integral, but only a filagree to make the music appear complex. The core of the music is basically slow chords, ponderous and always thickly-orchestrated. It appears not to have dawned on Ades that the composer is not obliged to write the entire piece tutti. The final, long, eight minutes is a faux canon based on a simple tune that sounds more like Vaughan-Williams than anything else.
There follows a violin concerto that is utterly generic. There is nothing more to say about it. Then comes "Three Studies from Couperin", a cute enough piece that's a little reminiscent of Stravinsky's treatment of Pergolesi. Many modern composers (Wuorinen comes to mind) have written pieces like this as refreshers. There is finally a piece--quite nicely performed by the Youth Orchestra of Great Britain--of a suite derived from Ades' opera "Powder her Face". Actually it sounds more like it was derived from Gershwin, with a strong dose of Michael Giacchino's film music.
Ades, along with composers like Higdon and Lindberg, has learned to write a treacly, inoffensive style of music with just enough non-tonal content to make the casual listener feel they've heard something new. It's plenty polished, but that's all it appears to be.
on December 7, 2014
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
vast and oceanic, with a second half consisting of one of the most beautiful sustained descants I've ever heard.
on January 29, 2015
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Very interesting contemporary music from a promising new English composer.
10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Ades the enfant terrible was a big hit ten years ago, and his facility with sound enabled him to catch the ear of popular audiences. He has a theatrical bent and displays wide-ranging musical talent as a conductor and pianist. But I don't think the earlier reviewer, a committed fan, has it right to claim Ades as the heir to Britten. Van Gogh was a Dutch painter, but that doesn't make him the heir to Rembrandt. Britten resisted the avant garde his entire life; Ades is a child of the permanent avant garde that has been center stage since World War II. He's an omnivore, comfortable to metabolize film scores and jazz as well as Szymanowski, Messiaen, and Bartok.
The three works on hand in this sumptuous new orchestral CD display his range, from the cheeky monkey of Powder Her Face, which is gamely campy and facetious, to the Szymanowski-like shimmer of Tevot to the post-Bartokian slashes of the Violin concerto. The three orchestrations of Couperin are like a graduation piece, exhibiting Ades's strongest gift, his ear for arresting orchestration. But in the end, there has to be something worth orchestrating. Tevot builds a glittering mountain of strings and winds twinkling like stars, against which the lower instruments weave slow, often sombre melodic lines -- I suppose they are the "ship of the world" that Ades spoke of in an interview. The Berlin Phil. performs magnificently, and as an audience member at the U.S. Premiere in Carnegie Hall in 2007, I can attest that the work's sheer sonority was impressive. I'm not sure that a second listen delivered anything more.
The Violin Concerto is motor-driven where Tevot relies on stasis, and as such it comes into direct comparison with two other concertos, by Glass and Adams, in which the soloist plays almost continuously in repetitive fashion, relying almost not at all on placing the violin as chief voice among many. Ades's version of this tactic features more rugged orchestral eruptions, as the previous reviewer notes; there's a passacaglia to satisfy formalists and various strands of quasi-melody. The Adams and Glass works are more accessible and immediately agreeable. I doubt that Ades will succeed i making a similar impact, simply because his materials, for all his facility, aren't (to me) very interesting.
The permanent avant garde has no problem being heard in the world's concert halls. Iv'e heard dozens of concerts featuring the same basic strategy of amassing impressive orchestral sounds, freely swinging between dissonance and consonance, and picking through the costume chest of every past trend in modernism. Has Ades set himself apart form the genre as a whole? He's not willing to fall back on treacly spirituality a la Part, Taverner, and Gubaidulina. He's not as genuinely avant-garde as, say, Cage, Xenakis, or Stockhausen. This is middle-of-theproad avant-gardism with an eye to the box office. And why not? Time will tell if his music holds up or is washed away by the next "it" boy, or girl.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2011
Format: Audio CD
This collection of recordings documents a decisive shift in the career of Thomas Adès. While continuities can readily be found with his previous work, in my opinion this marks his transition from a promising young artist to a position of mastery. In particular, "Tevot" and the violin concerto evidence a breathtaking new concept for developing musical ideas that is not like anything I have heard before -- one that offers a persuasive new technique for the arrangement of musical ideas.
Tevot is particularly instructive in this regard, and might be regarded as unfolding in three primary movements. The first movement suggests echoes of Charles Ives with its dissonant jumble of juxtaposed motives and rhythms, ever on the brink of cacophony. As with Ives, the dense array of textures and themes forms a turbulent body rich with latent possibilities, so that when independently-developed voices suddenly converge into a unified, hammering rhythm, the listener is awash with the retrospective sense of how carefully the unison was prepared in the preceding apparent chaos.
In the second brief movement, the dissonance yields to a spacious and sonorous array of softly voiced chords, preparing the ground for the magnificent third movement. The last section prepares a polyphonic array of gently probing melodic lines that coil softly upwards, reminding me of the tender shoots of spring emerging from the hard earth with their own implacable resolve. The lovely ascending assortment of sinuous voices gradually rises into full flower, when the thematic melodies are vigorously asserted by the orchestra in concert, leading to a gorgeous resolution.
This is simply electrifying stuff, not only rich in attractive melodic material, but thrilling in its novel formal elements. As a listener always excited to get a sense of what untrodden paths music will take as minimalism enters old age and the sonata form is long dead, it's thrilling to hear such a richly-developed and novel structure.
I could give a similar reading for the marvelous and expressive violin concerto, but in formal terms it follows a similar broad outline as Tevot. In fact, I believe they are ill served by being placed in succession, as the violin concerto is so similar on the surface, but so alive with its own vitality. I always make a point of listening to them separately.
Of Adès's beguiling sport with Couperin and playful reworking of his own "Powder Her Face," I will observe that he has two principle moods: dramatic and sarcastic. These two works belong to the latter category, and are drenched with a dry humor that does not detract from their loveliness any more than bawdy humor detracts from "The Twelfth Night."
In my opinion Adès is probably the most exciting composer working today, largely on the strength of his more recent work, including these compositions. Having recently experience his recent "Polaris," I'm confident that he will continue to mine a rich, expressive idiom that is quite distinct.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2010
Format: Audio CD
These four new orchestral pieces with Thomas Ades are truly magnificent. "Tevot" is certainly a stand out performance on this live album, featuring the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by the world-renowned Sir Simon Rattle. The remaining nine tracks are equally excellent as Ades showcased all of his vast talent and experience to produce another great addition to his catalogue of music. I fully recommend this CD to any fan of classical music, and after you give it a listen I am sure that you will not be disappointed.