THOMAS ADÈS (b.1971): Hotel Suite from the Opera Powder Her Face, Lieux retrouvés for Cello and Orchestra, 4 Märchentänze for Violin and Orchestra, Dawn. (all World Premiere Recordings).

Catalogue Number: 10Y024

Label: Ondine

Reference: ODE1402-2

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: This superb programme of world premiere recordings arose out of an Adès festival put on by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and its new chief conductor, Nicholas Collon, in 2021. Adès has made three concert suites from his first opera, the work that propelled him into the limelight on the wings of a succès de scandale, the true story of the "Dirty Duchess", Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, a famously beautiful débutante in the 1930s whose exuberant sex life became the subject of scandal during her messy divorce in the 1960s, when it turned out that she had pioneered the now-ubiquitous celebrity practice of getting into trouble by documenting her exploits on camera - in her case, the new, rare, expensive and imported technology of the Polaroid camera. Adès' opera holds up a distorting but revealing mirror to the hypocrisy of the tabloid newspapers, the insatiable prurient curiosity of the British public, and the amoral urges of the privileged classes, embodied by the self-indulgent and ultimately tragic figure of the Duchess. Popular music music of the time is central to the cloying, decadent atmosphere of the opera, and Adès co-opts and subverts it with consummate skill, absorbing it into his own extended tonality (much as John Harbison did in his "Great Gatsby" opera and subsequent suites - 04Q080). The Overture is full of intoxicating, swaggering tango rhythms, while in the following "Scene with Song" lazy jazz and dance rhythms show us the leisured class at its ease, with any dissonant suggestions of a sleazy underbelly to their sportive decadence swiftly dismissed. An alarm suddenly sounds, and a brilliantly orchestrated "cadence" that you won’t soon forget plunges us into the oppressively sinister "Wedding March" (yes, you read that correctly), a dark, churning, Mahlerian adagio, foretelling nothing but disaster for this marriage. Disintegration and decay continue in the "Waltz", apparently for skeletons and phantoms, inhabiting a nocturnal world of bad dreams. The finale returns to the tango rhythms of the Overture, now sounding explicitly Piazzollan, haunted, and lacking the confident swagger of their first appearance. The Proustian title of "Rediscovered Places" tells us what to expect; these are recollections of landscapes and experiences associated with them, seen through the clear but sometimes selective or distorting lens of memory. Originally for cello and piano, the orchestral concertino version places more emphasis on the coloristic potential of Adès distinctive instrumentation. The waters of the first movement begin as a still reflecting pool, then a gently active flowing stream, accumulating volume in plashing figuration around the cello's stream of circling swirls and eddies, a trademark of Adès discourse, as encountered, transformed into the magnificence of maelstrom, in large-scale works like Polaris (04S078) and In Seven Days (01N085). The ascent of the mountaineer in the second movement begins with irregular clambering over boulders, but soon the cello enters with dogged determination and the music continues in circling, repetitive motions as it ascends further and further into rarefied air. The "Fields" of the slow movement are an Arcadian Elysium; the cello a lonely soul singing a melancholy melody as it recedes into the distant heights. The bustling city of the raucous, earthy finale is revealed to be Paris by the appearance of a distorted Offenbach parody. The hugely appealing "Fairy Tale Dances" was also originally written with piano accompaniment and later expanded into orchestral form. The fast opening movement sounds like a folk tune, energetic and increasingly robust, with ample virtuosic opportunities for the soloist. The simple slow movement that follows again evokes English folk music, with the melodic contour and cadences of a folksong, in a delicate, tranquil setting. Adès' characteristic swirling roulades in ‘A Skylark for Jane’ vividly depict the swooping and circling of skylarks in shimmering summer air. The final movement is another rustic dance, suggesting village folk festivities. Dawn joins the long tradition of musical depictions of sunrise, from gleams in the dark to the piercing brilliance of day. Subtitled "Chacony for orchestra at any distance", it was written during the Covid lockdown, and allows the musicians to be disposed around the performance space as restrictions permit (its premiere was indeed at an indeterminate distance, in a 2020 Prom that was broadcast with no audience present in the hall). The ground of the chaconne is a slow sequence of arpeggiated triads, over which winds and brass intone descending figures with cumulative density and richness of texture, and brilliance of timbre. Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Tomas Nuñez (cello), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Nicholas Collon.


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