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Down to work at last. It is more than two weeks since the glitzy opening night of this mini festival devoted to the music of Thomas Adès and the main body of events is only now getting underway. Larger works, such as the Violin Concerto, are being heard at the Barbican, while the chamber-sized pieces that made Adès’s reputation are being ideally housed up the road in the intimate setting of St Luke’s Church, the London Symphony Orchestra’s rehearsal hall.
Where better to start a retrospective than Op.1? The first piece in Sunday’s early evening concert was the song cycle Five Eliot Landscapes, not perhaps the most expressive response to the poems possible, but Adès’s fingerprints are already all over the score. The composer himself dealt with the intricate piano accompaniments and soprano Rebecca von Lipinski sailed up coolly to her stratospheric top notes, a pre-echo of Ariel’s music in The Tempest.
From there to Op.2, the Chamber Symphony, was a leap in achievement. It is the sheer fecundity of ideas here that announced the 20-year-old Adès was somebody to watch. Germs of music rapidly spring into life and multiply, as though the composer’s skill was as a miniaturist, and yet the contrasting sections bind together in a brilliant sound-world that gives them complete coherence. The brightly coloured vignettes of Living Toys, Op.9, and softer daydreams of the string quartet Arcadiana, Op.12, both dating from the early 1990s, are cast in the same mould – dazzling expositions of youthful exuberance, and dazzlingly played here by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Arditti Quartet respectively.
To end, Adès conducted a starry ensemble in Stravinsky’s Les noces: the four pianists included Peter Donohoe, Rolf Hind and the Labèque sisters, and the all-Russian Pokrovsky Ensemble brought an earthy, native energy to Stravinsky’s choral parts that was irresistible. An exhilarating way to start.
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