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Thomas ADÈS (b. 1971)
Arcadiana op. 12 (1994) [19:03]
Piano Quintet (2000) [21:45]
The Four Quarters op. 28 (2010) [17:26]
DoelenKwartet Rotterdam
Dimitri Vassilakis (piano)
rec. 2016, Juriaanse Zaal, De Doelen, Rotterdam
CYBELE RECORDS SACD 261603 [58:10]

This is another superbly recorded and performed disc from Cybele. Thomas Adès’s chamber music has proven qualities on previous recordings, with none of these performances being premières. Arcadiana, written for the Endellion Quartet, is one the composer’s early successes and embodies the attractiveness of his writing, with its hints of Schubert and beautiful O Albion movement offering access points to an idiom whose complexities tread lightly. Guy Dammann in his booklet notes refers to Adès as “a figure who is constantly travelling”, his arguably eclectic but always deeply personal language “perhaps most like Fauré… endlessly mining the musical subjunctive for a glimpse of something truly unspoiled.”

This is certainly true of the Piano Quintet, which develops over a single movement and has its structural and occasional fragmentary glimpses of a rich musical ancestry, but for the most part retains an unswerving aim towards climactic passages that are both classical in structure and pure Adès in content. The abstraction here is always transparent, either in dynamics and voicing, or in clarity of intent when it comes to the high drama of the most forceful moments.

The elusive but never entirely absent beauties in Adès’s chamber works continue in The Four Quarters. The title is a pictorial reference, with Corot’s ‘The Four Times of Day’ illustrating the score, but Guy Dammann hears the music as less focussed on the imagery and more “on moments of consciousness.” Moving from nocturnal atmospheres, with elongated stresses and delayed cadence, the work takes us to the pizzicato vibrancy of Morning Dew, emerging into Day with its feeling of passing time underpinned by an ostinato pedal tone in the second violin. The final movement is entitled The Twenty-Fifth Hour, “a reference to the idea of time outside time.” This takes material from the previous movements filtered through a shift towards apotheosis.

I last came across Adès’s Arcadiana with the Danish String Quartet on the ECM label (review), but there is also the dedicatee Endellion Quartet on EMI/Warner (review), and the Calder Quartet on Signum Classics (review), whose release duplicates this Cybele programme in all but order of play. As a direct comparison I would find it hard to come down firmly either way as both recordings are excellent, the Signum recording including Adès himself at the piano for the Piano Quintet. The Calder Quartet feels closer to the composer’s notation, while the DoelenKwartet is more ‘romantic’ to my ears, or less deliberately avant-garde in technique: digging less deeply with the dynamic extremes and pinging less sharply with the pizzicati but keeping us closely involved with the music by choosing a more poised and ‘classical’ approach. I’m a big fan of Cybele’s SACD binaural headphone recordings and that might tip the balance in their favour, but in the end true Adès fans will have to decide for themselves which they prefer.

Dominy Clements


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