Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Barbican Hall, London

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It was all over too soon. The half dozen concerts that made up “Traced Overhead”, the mini-festival offering a portrait of the composer Thomas Adès, came to an end with this concert on Sunday, having set up enticing pointers to any number of further paths of exploration.

It is not only in the UK that Adès is making a noise. He is to be the featured composer in the Présences Festival in Paris this spring; he will be the focus of Oslo’s Ultima Festival later in the year; and in 2007-08 will undertake a residency at Carnegie Hall, New York.

Adès’s Violin Concerto, new last year, was the centrepiece of Sunday’s programme with the composer as conductor and, though it feels on the short side at less than 20 minutes, there is plenty in it to set the imagination spinning. The two fleeting outer movements inhabit a familiar glinting, luminous sound world, but the bitter-sweet melancholy of the slow movement strays into far darker territory. Anthony Marwood, who gave the concerto’s premiere, was again the riveting soloist.

The other Adès work, Three Studies after Couperin, was getting its first UK performance. Delightful miniatures, these studies take three of Couperin’s instrumental pieces and view them through a slightly distorting lens, just enough to throw up strange shadows.

To top and tail the programme Adès led the COE players in rumbustious performances of Haydn’s Symphony No.70 and Beethoven’s No.1 – not what one would have expected from so polished a composer, but all the more fascinating for that. Here is a musician with a lot to say.
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