Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Piano Quintet; The Four Quarters; Arcadiana
PERFORMER: Thomas Adès (piano); Calder Quartet


The words ‘brilliant’ and ‘young’ have been applied so often to Thomas Adès (born 1971) one forgets he does actually age, like ordinary mortals. This CD of three chamber works is welcome, as it allows us to trace his development over almost 20 years. The bejewelled light-as-air fantasy, the haunted references to music of the past and the staggeringly inventive ear shown in Arcadiana of 1994 are still there in the Piano Quintet of 2000 and The Four Quarters of 2010. What’s different is the darker, weightier tone and a new formal amplitude. The Piano Quintet even begins with an old-fashioned sonata form.

At its premiere, this piece astounded with its crazily complex polyrhythms, described by violinist Irvine Arditti as the hardest thing he had ever tackled. The Calder Quartet, a young American quartet who’ve become familiar with Adès’s music over many years, take it all in their stride. The piece sounds surprisingly different in their performance, less hectically intense, more musing and introverted.  Thomas Adès himself is at the piano, so we can be sure the approach is ‘authentic’.

The performances of the other two works are equally revealing. The Calder Quartet catches the way everything in Adès’s music sounds uncanny, even a plain major chord. But they do it in a very subtle way that actually humanises the music. It’s the most subtle feature of an altogether wonderful CD.


Ivan Hewett