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Ades: America - A Prophecy

Release Date: 05/17/2011 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 27201   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Thomas AdèsChristopher Foreman / CatFrançois Couperin
Performer:  Susan BickleyHugh WebbTom PosterRichard Benjafield,   ... 
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Composers Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

If you have not yet picked up on the music of Thomas Adès then this compilation is a good place from which to start. It affords you a contrasting cross-section of his work demonstrating what the back of the disc describes as his “unquiet brilliance and uncompromising vigour”.

The CD has small-scale pieces as well as the vast America: A Prophecy which I shall discuss now as it takes up the first two tracks. The text, in English and Spanish, which sadly is not printed in the booklet, is from the Chilam Balam and from an ensalada, La Guerra, composed by the 16 th century Spanish composer Mateo Flecha. It falls into two sections and was written for Kurt Masur to mark the Millennium. The
Read more Maya Indians were savagely brought into the western world by the violence of the conquistadors just at the time Flecha was composing for the Spanish court. The sound-world is typically original, using at first just a few rotating notes, sometimes, for example when the choir enter it is tonal even modal as Paul Griffiths’ booklet notes sensibly mention. Elsewhere it is freely polytonal and rich in its eclecticism. The overall impact is profound. There is a strong message and the music makes a tough impression taking no prisoners.

It is followed by the gently limping lullaby which constitutes the Fayrfax carol commissioned by Kings for their carol service in 1997. Actually the text comes from the Fayrfax manuscript ‘Ah my deir son’. It’s a deceptively simple piece with ambiguous but beautiful harmony.

Fool’s Rhymes falls into two brief movements with some early English texts and part of a sermon by John Donne. The voices are accompanied by percussion, harp, piano and organ. Its tantalising skittishness is all over in less than five minutes. Britten would have approved of this. Quite clearly Adés likes setting words and he is able to find some startling ones. I can only repeat that with no texts provided this must go against the spirit of the composer’s wishes, but I will keep going. January Writ reminds me of James MacMillan; the words too. They are from Ecclesiastes. This was another Millennium celebration commission this time from the Inner Temple. Polyphony are superb here especially the basses in there bottom register. The slow rotating harmony I am now recognising as an Adés fingerprint.
The other choral work is the brief ‘ O Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin’ a good example of Adés’ choice of extraordinarily unusual texts and of original melodic sense.

An early work from 1989 and without opus number is the haunting ‘ The Lover in Winter’ beautifully sung by Robin Blaze accompanied with much sensitivity by Huw Watkins. This comprises four aphoristic Latin rhymes alluding to renaissance music and lied but with a character all its own. Quite a feat for an eighteen year old.

The Composer’s Ensemble commissioned two arrangements from Adés, and quite contrasting they are too. Cardiac Arrest was a rock classic of c.1982 by Chris Foreman and Cathal Smyth for the band Madness. In Adés’ arrangement it is even more manic whereas the Couperin arrangement of Les Baricades mistérieuses is sober and elegant and cleverly fades out like a 60s pop EP.

I first came across Life Story - also in this form written for Composer’s Ensemble - in a version for soprano and piano back in 1997 when it emerged on CD sung by Mary Carewe (EMI Debut CDZ 69699 2) and thought it a masterpiece. The present variant for two bass clarinets and double-bass is even more sleazy and bluesy. The song has marvellous words by Tennessee Williams. It can be thought of as a post-coital pillow chat with a night’s casual pick-up, which possibly ends in a hotel room fire; one is left wondering. I prefer the sexy and suggestive Carewe who really gets inside the text. On the other hand I really like the slimy clarinets, so you should track down both versions.

Bearing in mind Adés’ love of setting quirky texts try the last track, Brahms commissioned for Alfred Brendel’s 70th birthday and setting a text in German which Brendel had produced. What it’s all about I can’t tell you but the music manages almost, but not quite to quote Brahms while at the same time managing to sound like a missing piece of Wozzeck. Quite clever and fascinating.

At the end of the CD I still felt like shouting out “Will the real Thomas Adés please stand up?”

-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

America - A Prophecy, Op. 19 by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Susan Bickley ()
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 03/28/2002 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Birmingham 
Length: 9 Minutes 42 Secs. 
The Fayrfax Carol by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Hugh Webb (Harp), Tom Poster (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; England 
Venue:  Temple Church, London 
Length: 4 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Fool's Rhymes, Op. 5 by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Tom Poster (Piano), Richard Benjafield (Percussion), Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (Organ),
Hugh Webb (Harp)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Temple Church, London 
Length: 1 Minutes 37 Secs. 
January Writ by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Hugh Webb (Harp), Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (Organ), Tom Poster (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; England 
Venue:  Temple Church, London 
Length: 6 Minutes 13 Secs. 
O thou who didst with pitfall and gin, Op. 3a by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Hugh Webb (Harp), Tom Poster (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Temple Church, London 
Length: 4 Minutes 40 Secs. 
The Lover in Winter by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Robin [Countertenor Vocal] Blaze (), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; England 
Length: 5 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Life Story, Op. 8b by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Claron McFadden ()
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Composers Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
Length: 7 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Cardiac Arrest by Christopher Foreman / Cat
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Composers Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Written: circa 1981 
Length: 2 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Pièces de clavecin, Book 2: Ordre 6 in B flat major - Les baricades mistérieuses by François Couperin
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Composers Ensemble
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1717; Paris, France 
Length: 2 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Brahms, Op. 21 by Thomas Adès
Performer:  Christopher Maltman ()
Conductor:  Thomas Adès
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 03/28/2002 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Birmingham 
Length: 5 Minutes 39 Secs. 

Sound Samples

America: Part I Oh my nation prepare...
America: Part II Burn, burn, burn
The Fayrfax Carol
Fool's Rhymes: Supernat'ral light...
Fool's Rhymes: We're all in the dumps...
January Writ
O thou who didst with pitfall and with gin
The Lover in Winter: Iam nocet frigus teneris
The Lover in Winter: Nec limpha caret alveus
The Lover in Winter: Modo frigescit quidquid est
The Lover in Winter: Nutritur ignis osculo
Life Story
Cardiac Arrest
Les Baricades Mistérieuses

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