Adès Conducts Adès – Piano Concerto; Totentanz
Kirill Gerstein, Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano), Mark Stone (baritone); Boston Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Adès
DG 483 7998 55.58 mins
Thomas Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra syncopates in and out of focus from its opening chords, lush, restless, unsettling yet familiar and somewhat ‘Romantic’, in form at least – a ‘proper piano concerto,’ as Adès called it – bookending a slow movement with two fast. It’s immediately compelling, conducted here by the composer with pianist Kirill Gerstein, who inspired it, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who then commissioned it, raucous in response. A frenzied, exhilarating first movement gives way to a second filled with washes of ecstatic piano glissandos before sink-staggering down a pianistic back stair and slumping into nothingness, then a busy third movement that whisks us off again into the maelstrom.
Trumpets then herald Adès’s brilliant, rattling death dance, Totentanz, a setting of the anonymous medieval text which appeared below a frieze in the Marienkirche in Lübeck (destroyed in World War II), in which Death invites everyone to dance with him in short order, from Pope to Emperor, all the way down the social scale to the very bottom – yes, the women and children. It’s harrowing, thrilling stuff, Mark Stone’s implacable baritone wielding Death’s relentless scythe as skeletons tap-dance in the orchestra and mezzo soprano Christianne Stotijn alternately bemoans and pleads as the unfortunate but inevitable souls – some damned, some saved – whose time on Earth is up. The victims come thick and fast, all arguments futile in Death’s occasionally sympathetic sights. Adès and the BSO provide dark circus, military beats and calamitous musical ear boxing as the protagonists dance over the orchestral horizon, an endless roster of musical shadows. Sarah Urwin Jones