THOMAS ADÈS (b.1971): Concert Paraphrase on “Powder Her Face” for 2 Pianos, Berceuse from The Exterminating Angel” for Piano (World Premiere Recordings), Mazurkas for Piano, In Seven Days for Piano and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 07W066
Label: Myrios Classics
Description: The Concert Paraphrase is based on four scenes from Adès' opera about 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. This is what it sounds like when the unmistakably Lisztian and Busonian techniques of operatic transcription are applied with the consummate skill of a real composer-pianist to the melodies and harmonies of a contemporary opera (for comparison one thinks of Ronald Stevenson's transcriptions of Busoni and Berg). Deliberate references to Romantic transcriptions of classical operas are seamlessly blended in, cleverly winking at tradition while honoring and extending it. Popular music of the 1930s is central to the score, subverted by Adès' modern, extended tonal idiom, precisely characterized by the composer as "irrationally functional tonality". The paraphrase, like the opera, balances decadence and disintegration, making it a hugely pleasurable work that makes you feel faintly guilty for enjoying it so much. The Berceuse is a love-death scene from Adès latest opera, The Exterminating Angel, harmonically saturated and ambiguous, again cast in superb piano technique. The Mazurkas were composed for Chopin’s bicentenary, and their ancestry is readily apparent, but they sound completely new. They are instantly identifiable as mazurkas, but the grandiose dream-ballroom of the first, the impressionistic shimmer of the second, and the spare, glacial progression of the third project the dance form beyond Chopin’s world as Chopin projected it beyond its rustic folk origins. The "symphony with piano" in all but name is at once immensely approachable and titanically impressive, alongside towering monuments like Polaris and Tevot. Its seven movements illustrate the Biblical creation story, and the work is built as a kind of fractal elaboration of its theme (finally exposed in its simplest form in the final "contemplation"), in which small scalar cells, initially swirling like atoms in the void (in repeating patterns, lending the music a quasi-minimalist drive) coalesce into increasingly elaborate structures, like the growth of massive crystal formations. The work consists of variations which unfold and expand, zooming in perspective from atomic to cosmic scale and pausing to dwell on the teeming creatures of the earth in between. Adès’ ideas about the piece seem to have evolved considerably since the previous recording, eight years ago (01N085), and the work now emerges with greater stature, and feels more symphonic and even more impressive, and it was always a piece with great impact. The fact that it is no longer indissolubly wedded to Tal Rosner's video installation but has taken on a successful independent concert life may have something to do with this rethinking of the monumental nature of the music; the swirling burgeoning of life energy in the creation of the earth movement, III, is quite overwhelming here. Thomas Adès, Kirill Gerstein (pianos), Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; Thomas Adès.