Thomas ADÈS (b. 1971) The Twenty-fifth hour: Chamber music of Thomas Adès
Piano Quintet (2001) [19:18] The Four Quarters (2011) [17:59] Arcadiana (1993) [19:57]
Calder Quartet (Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook (violins), Jonathan
Moerschel (viola), Eric Byers (cello)) Thomas Adès (piano)
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 2014 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD413 [56:17]
Few contemporary composers have met such acclaim as
Adès. Just take two examples: his orchestral works have been regularly
recorded by EMI – let’s hope Warner continue the practice. His opera
on The Tempest was first produced at Covent Garden in 2004 and
has since been revived both there and in many other opera houses including
the Metropolitan Opera, New York and Vienna; it has also been recorded
Now we have the chance to hear what he can do with chamber music.
What we have here are two string quartets, written eighteen years apart,
and a piano quintet which comes chronologically between them. Arcadiana
is an early work with strong literary, musical and also pictorial associations,
most of which are explained in the very helpful note by Paul Griffiths.
The Arcadia referred to in the title is not the real barren and rocky
landscape of that name, which is in the Peloponnese in Southern Greece,
but rather the ideal landscape invented by Virgil and taken up in the
Renaissance for pastoral settings. Arcadiana consists of seven
sound pictures, six of which, Adès says “evoke various vanished or vanishing
‘idylls’. The odd-numbered are all aquatic and would splice if played
The idiom is astringent but not specially dissonant, though with a fondness
for high registers. A constant feature is that of a dance form struggling
to get through, for example a waltz in the first movement and a tango
in the fourth. These are subverted by all sorts of noises off, which
can include pizzicati, glissandi and high harmonics. Just when you think
you want a change there comes a tune, a snatch of one or a bit more,
sometimes quoted from another composer and sometimes new. The sixth
movement is again quite different: taking its start from Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’,
it is slow, quiet, deep in the instruments and full of rich harmonies.
This is the second
commercial recording of Arcadiana, and it is on its way to
becoming a contemporary classic.
This is also the second recording of the piano quintet, which like the
first (with the Arditti quartet on EMI)
features Adès himself on the piano. He is no mean pianist, as I know
from his splendid recording with Anthony Marwood of Stravinsky’s violin
and piano music (on Hyperion).
Though three movements are listed this is really a massive single movement
in an expanded sonata form. The first theme is an ascending group of
three chords followed by a more rapid descent, a motif which is worked
on before the first violin reaches a passage of quavers while the other
instruments proceed in different metres. There is a rather Brahmsian
second theme and even a modified repetition of the exposition before
a development which culminates in a huge churning passage with complex
rhythms which suggest that Adès had been listening to Elliott Carter
to some purpose. From this there is a gradual retreat to a quiet résumé
of the opening. Adès leads the listener carefully throughout so the
work is easy to follow and with a great variety of textures and moods.
It is a fascinating piece.
The Four Quarters is the second string quartet. Here the controlling
idea is that of the cycle of day and night. The first movement, ‘Nightfalls’,
much the longest, opens with high violins playing repeated notes in
the rhythm of an anapaest (short – short – long). The two lower instruments
then enter far below them and more slowly. It is perhaps not too fanciful
to hear this as a representation of the stars coming out in the sky
while the earth darkens below. The two lines gradually combine in a
passage of rather Bergian chromaticism, a process which is repeated
with difference until the two strands separate out again. ‘Morning Dew’
is a scherzo which starts entirely in pizzicato. The scherzo of the
Ravel quartet is not far away and the pizzicato movement of Bartók’s
Fourth Quartet is even nearer. But in this piece the instruments all
play in different rhythms, which only occasionally coincide. The second
time they do this so excites the first violin that he picks up his bow
again. Then all the others do too. ‘Days’ is built on a repeating rhythm
of thirteen beats on the second violin while the other instruments have
something quite different. The quartet ends with ‘The Twenty-fifth Hour’,
which, like the first movement, begins with high violins, though no
longer in that anapaestic rhythm, but in a dance rhythm of 8+3+8+6.
This has many adventures but ends with a widely spaced D major chord.
The Calder Quartet hails originally from California and has made a speciality
of playing contemporary works. They have worked with Adès for some years.
Their performances are assured; though I have not been able to compare
their versions of Arcadiana and the piano quintet with their
predecessors I find it hard to think they would be inferior. The recording
is clear, perhaps slightly on the dry side. I look forward to hearing
more chamber works from Adès.
The Four Quarters
1. Nightfalls [7:06]
2. Serenade: Morning Dew [3:12]
3. Days [3:50]
4. The Twenty-fifth Hour [3:51]
1. Venezia notturno [2:39]
2. Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön [1:22]
3. Auf dem Wasser zu singen [2:35]
4. Et . . . (tango mortale) [3:53]
5. L’Embarquement [2:34]
6. O Albion [3:27]
7. Lethe [2:27]