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Thomas Adès (piano): Zankel Hall, New York 19.11.2007 (BH)


Janáček: Reminiscence (1928)
Janáček: Malostransky Palace (1927)
Janáček: Christ the Lord is Born (1909)
Janáček: I am Waiting for You! (1928)
Janáček: In the Mists (1912)
Adès: Traced Overhead, Op. 15 (1995-96)
Adès: Darknesse Visible (1991)
Castiglioni: How I Passed the Summer (1983)
Stravinsky: Souvenir d’une marche boche (1915)
Stravinsky: Valse pour les enfants (ca. 1916)
Stravinsky: Piano-Rag-Music (1918-19)
Nancarrow: Three Canons for Ursula (1988)

A sense of camaraderie infused Thomas Adès’s New York recital debut last night, with many cheering fans in attendance.  His appearance came as a postscript to Carnegie Hall’s massive “Berlin in Lights” festival, centered around dozens of events all over town, by the Berlin Philharmonic, which gave the United States premiere of Adés’s own Tevot last Wednesday night.

He began with four short
Janáček works, none more than a minute long, all lovingly presented, followed by a lithe, persuasive In the Mists.  Tender moments were carefully intertwined with more vibrant folk rhythms, and Adès sold these with gentle spirit. 

After removing his jacket (“My music makes me warmer.”), he returned to the stage for Traced Overhead and Darknesse Visible.  The title of the former refers to resonance, or as Paul Griffiths describes it, a “slow-motion waterfall,” and the high pitches at the beginning of “Sursum” anticipate the twinkling opening of Tevot, while the final section, “Chori” flickers quietly.  Darknesse Visible takes a well-known theme from John Dowland’s “In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell,” subjects it to tremolos and then carries it often to the far right end of the keyboard. 
Adès played each of these with the care of an interpreter who knows he’s in the driver’s seat.

Niccolò Castiglioni wrote How I Passed the Summer as a series of short aural postcards from Alto Adige, a favorite summer haunt.  After bounding back out to the piano, Adès said cheerily, “Welcome back, now the sun comes out,” and indeed this gentle music might have been the sunniest on the program.  One section uses ragtime, while another has skittish flourishes at the high end of the spectrum.  The ten are short—totaling about ten minutes—which made it a bit astonishing that a second piano (an upright) is required, even though it’s for all of twenty seconds or so.

Adès found the wit in the three Stravinsky bon-bons, especially the Piano-Rag-Music with its irregular rhythms and its abrupt ending, almost like an afterthought.  And he nailed the charm of the Souvenir d’une
marche boche, the aural equivalent of watching soldiers stride past the Arc de Triomphe, and the Satie-like slyness of Valse pour les enfants.

Anyone who can even attempt Conlon Nancarrow’s Three Canons for Ursula cannot be daunted by their mathematical relationships: the first is in a 5-to-7 ratio (i.e., the speed at which each hand enters with the theme) and the final one is a more “usual” 2-to-3.  In between is what Adès called “the siesta, more relaxed but the math is worse.”  Each hand is divided into two parts, which enter in a ratio of 6-to-9-to-10-to-15.  (At least they’re not prime numbers.)  Adès seemed completely unfazed and delivered readings with a scholar’s attention to detail.  If Adès is no Argerich (as he would no doubt be quick to offer) he still plays consciensciously and well, and came up with a refreshingly original program in which to show his skills.  He also has a game rapport with a microphone, which he doesn’t hesitate to use to relate small program tidbits.

His imaginative encores began with Couperin’s
"Les baricades mistérieuses" from Sixième ordre, Second Livre de pièces de clavecin, and continued with more Janáček: “In Memoriam” and the composer’s last work, “The Golden Ring,” the latter about 15 seconds long.


Bruce Hodges


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