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Recordings

ADÈS: Piano Quintet
16 Sep 2005

ADÈS: Piano Quintet

Despite his relative youth (b.1971), Thomas Adès is well-known among today’s serious opera connoisseurs for his 1995 opera hit, Powder Her Face, as well as his more recent opera, The Tempest, which opened in February 2004 to rave reviews. The success of these imaginative, ground-breaking compositions has led him to be recognized as one of Britain’s most promising young composers. As such, Adès has enjoyed the privilege of having his music performed by only the highest caliber of musicians. The featured performers in the 2005 EMI Classics release of his Piano Quintet (2001) are no exception.

ADÈS: Piano Quintet; SCHUBERT: Piano Quintet

Thomas Adès, piano; Belcea Quartet

EMI Classics 7243 5 57664 2 7 [CD]

 

A convincing performance of Adès’ Piano Quintet is a formidable challenge to even the most seasoned and notable chamber players. Adès demands impeccable technical ability from each individual player, challenging the limitations of the stringed instruments, forcing performers to achieve new levels of technical ability, particularly in the first violin part. Fortunately for the listener, Irvine Arditti of the Arditti Quartet rises to meet that challenge delivering a seemingly flawless performance that evenly maintains the tone and timbre, even in passages executed in an unusually high register. Re-emphasizing Arditti’s command of the violin in this setting, it should be noted that his playing was confident and unwavering throughout.

The piece itself takes audiences on a journey, beginning with tonal, melodic lines that often mirror themselves. Gradually, the individual parts begin traveling in different meters, depriving listeners of a pulse they can hold on to, particularly in the more subdued development section. In an energetic final section, the instruments converge with material from the exposition, only this time, with an infusion of energy characterized by a much faster tempo and stronger dynamics. Although mentally taxing at times, the work was genuinely satisfying as well as impressive.

Overall, the most impressive feature of the Adès performance is not the unquestioned technical abilities of the performers, but rather the holistic experience of listening to five instrumentalists sharing a defined musical vision. In other words, the different personalities (including that of Thomas Adès playing the piano) came to a mutual understanding, so that all members shared the same interpretation for each of the numerous musical ideas presented, maintaining these congruencies throughout the work. In doing so, the ensemble had to master an unforgiving score which often required that each individual performer execute their passages in different meters simultaneously, the effect of which was both disconcerting and dramatic. Thomas Adès provides audiences with an authoritative performance of a strikingly original work.

In this recording, Franz Schubert’s well-known “Trout” Quintet appropriately complements Adès’ more contemporary work. Exemplifying Schubert’s forward-thinking compositional style, the “Trout” Quintet demonstrates how infusing classical forms with unconventional, yet delightful musical inventions can result in the creation of a highly revered classic. Thomas Adès joins members of the Belcea Quartet and bassist Corin Long in delivering an energetic and pleasurable performance of Schubert’s timeless classic.
Overall, the performance was energetic and engaging, emphasizing Schubert’s more “romantic” side. In many of the more lyrical passages, the first violinist exaggerated the phrasing somewhat more than the other instrumentalists, and often infused the performance with added intensity using very fast vibrato. Overall, one can expect a very satisfying performance from the violinist, although occasionally, overshadowing the more delicate and gentle deliveries from the other players. At times, it almost seemed as though the violinist is gifted with tremendous soloistic qualities that may be a bit too pronounced in a chamber setting.

Among things to look forward to in the Schubert are beautiful and well balanced lyrical lines from the viola and cello. The string bass provides solid rhythmic accompaniment with a warm tone. Tempos for the first and third movements are generally on the fast side, lending the performance some excitement. For those familiar with this Schubert signature, and even for those who have yet to experience this legendary quintet, this recording is both enjoyable and rewarding.

M. Nathalie Hristov
University of Tennessee

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