Thomas ADÈS (b. 1971) The Twenty-Fifth Hour
Piano Quintet (2001) [19:18] The Four Quarters (2011) [17:59] Arcadiana (1993) [18:57]
Thomas Adès (piano) (Quintet)
Calder Quartet (Benjamin Jacobson (violin); Andrew Bulbrook (violin); Jonathan Moerschel (viola); Eric Byers (cello))
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 2014 DDD SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD413 [56:17]
Of the composers of his generation, Thomas Adès has had especial appeal for me. His music is almost immediately recognizable from the first notes in both his use of harmony and the complexity of his rhythms. He achieves that despite freely borrowing from composers of the past. His music uses both tonality and atonality in creative ways that invariably grip the listener. At the same time, there is nothing simplistic about his music. I hailed an earlier release, including his orchestral blockbuster Tevot and his Violin Concerto (EMI), and on another CD Lieux retrouvés for cello and piano (Hyperion). I am no less impressed by his chamber compositions on this disc.
Arcadiana consists of seven “sound pictures”, where each one is individual and distinct, but “drawn out of the same musical stuff, as if each were a different view through a kaleidoscope”, as aptly described by Paul Griffiths in his excellent notes to the CD. The odd-numbered movements are all aquatic in their imagery. The first picture, Venezia notturno, depicting a gondolier (the viola) at night, has a romantic aura and reminds me of Ravel a little. The second movement, Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön, is a quote from The Magic Flute and ends with a direct reference to Mozart’s opera. The third, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, takes its title and figuration from a Schubert song, but does not quote the actual song. The fourth movement, Et … (tango mortale), is the longest and the centre-piece of the work, referring to paintings of Poussin depicting the deceased and Death. As in the previous movement, the music becomes threatening and violent although the tango rhythm is ever-present. The mood changes with the fifth picture, L’Embarquement, which relates to a Watteau painting and Debussy’s response to the same painting. It is lighter and more melodic than the previous movements, and is quite enchanting. The next movement, O Albion, is also melodious, but this time is a meditation on Elgar’s Nimrod. It is very moving with great depth of feeling. The final picture, Lethe, refers to the river of forgetting from Greek mythology and begins with a melody by the cello before the other instruments join in. It then gradually dies away. Arcadiana has been taken up and recorded by other string quartets, and this is the Calder Quartet’s second recording. It is beautifully performed here and undoubtedly authoritative.
The Piano Quintet is as abstract as Arcadiana is picturesque and is more astringent. However it is relieved by a folkish passage in the long exposition that occurs twice: starting at 3:35 and again at 9:08. The work is in a span of a single sonata movement, although the CD has the shorter development and recapitulation separately tracked. It is a colourful piece with lots of pizzicato effects that mesh well with the piano. There is much variety in the work, even if it is difficult to follow at times. There is one place near the end of the exposition (starting at 11:14) where Adès seems to be paying homage to the Heiliger Danksgesang of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15. The Calder Quartet and the composer give us a recording that should stand as definitive for some time to come.
The most recent piece, which receives its world premiere recording here, is the string quartet, The Four Quarters. This has more in common with Arcadiana, as Griffiths remarks in his note: “[It] returns to the Arcadian model of brilliant evocation by means of tight construction, the central metaphor this time being the diurnal cycle.” The first movement, Nightfalls, is twice as long as each of the other three. The mood is contemplative, not to say dour, and the rhythm is dominated by an anapestic pattern of short-short-long beats. Later this turns dactylic (long-short-short). The second movement, Morning Dew, is in complete contrast—a largely pizzicato scherzo that is quite jazzy in its syncopated rhythms. It reminded me a bit of a similar movement in Ligeti’s Second String Quartet. There is a bowed section in the middle of the movement before returning to pizzicato. Griffiths describes the third movement, Days, as a “study in monotony, but within a context, of course, of constant change.” It begins at a lower dynamic and builds from there with the anapestic rhythm alternating with short-long notes but when it becomes loud the short-long rhythm dominates. The movement ends quietly and not a little sadly. The Twenty-Fifth Hour, which is the last movement, refers to a time outside time. There are high violin harmonics similar to the beginning of the first movement with the lower strings accompanying pizzicato. The movement grows in complexity and volume and then becomes mellow, ending quietly and harmonically on a D major chord that Adès repeats a second time. This is an impressive work, impressively performed, as is everything on this disc.