LIEUX RETROUVÉS • Steven Isserlis (vc); Thomas Adès (pn) • HYPERION 67948 (76:44)
LISZT Romance oubliée. Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth. Die Trauergondel. JANÁ?EK Pohádka. FAURÉ Cello Sonata No. 2 in g. KURTÁG For Steven: In Memoriam Pauline Mara. PilinszkyRead more János: Gérard de Nerval. Schatten. György Kroó in memoriam. ADÈS Lieux retrouvés
This fascinating and curious disc, which represents my first opportunity to hear Thomas Adès as a pianist (particularly interesting in older music like Liszt and Fauré), was conceived as a prelude to Adès’s own work, Lieux retrouvés, which closes out this recital. I was also drawn to hear it because Adès is paired here with Steven Isserlis, one of my (many, nowadays) favorite cellists.
The liner notes by Isserlis point out that Adès not only admires each of these composers, but that these specific works meant a lot to him and in turn helped form his ideas for Lieux retrouvés. Yet in listening, the only composer whose music resembles Adès’s own in even some form is that of György Kurtág (b.1926), and Isserlis concedes that the older composer’s “intense brevity” is not really a model for Adès. The composer replies that he “knew and adored Kurtág’s music before I met him—it communicates so directly,” and in fact Adès wrote his university thesis on Kurtág. In listening, I definitely heard two things in Kurtág that are also in Adès: (1) the brief, jagged lines used, and (2) the mysterious way each composer “trails off” at certain points in his music.
Much harder to find is a link between Fauré and Adès, but the younger composer claims that he adores Fauré’s “unique quality of inner illumination and rapture,” and he certainly plays it that way on the piano. Naturally, music like this is bread-and-butter to Isserlis, and he, too plays it extremely well. As for Liszt, the specific piece that communicates the most to Adès is his Trauergondel (aka La lugubre gondola), in which “one really feels the sense of elsewhere.” Surprisingly, the Janá?ek piece presented here, Pohádka, is nearly as lyrical as the Liszt and Fauré, not as jagged in contour as his opera scores from the 1920s. (Isserlis rather drolly mentions that the “tale” of the title is based loosely on a story by Russian poet Zhukovsky, “catchily entitled ‘A Tale about Tsar Berendey, about his son Ivan the Tsarevich, about the Acumen of Immortal Kaschei and about the wise Tsarievna Maria, Kaschei’s Daughter.’” Thank goodness that Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t try to write an opera on that one!)
Eventually we reach Lieux retrouvés. As Isserlis states, the solo cello part is extraordinarily difficult in places, so much so that at first he shied away from learning it. The music is, however, extraordinary; like so much of Adès’s music, it brings the listener inward to a still, small space within, then abruptly explodes in little shards of music which then coalesce and re-form themselves in a grotesque but highly imaginative and oddly delightful “danse macabre.” As is so often the case with Adès’s music, the final result is almost indescribable.
One of the final notes in the booklet includes the remark that, in Adès’s “forthcoming opera” he plans “to burn a cello onstage,” and the cello really does burn a bit in the final “Cancan macabre.” Does this indicate a love or a hatred for the cello? Adès isn’t saying, but he does remark “the cello of all instruments makes one dream of Elsewhere when one hears it.” So, maybe, Adès is “burning his bridge to Elsewhere.” In the meantime, we can thoroughly enjoy this unusual outing with two of Britain’s top classical musicians.