Thomas Adès: In Seven Days etc

Kirill Gerstein (piano), et al (Myrios)

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CD Ades

Thomas Adès
Powder Her Face – Concert Paraphrase; The Exterminating Angel – Berceuse; Mazurkas for Piano, Op. 27; In Seven Days*
Kirill Gerstein (piano); *Tanglewood Music Centre Orchestra/Thomas Adès
Myrios MYR027   58:02 mins

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The collaboration between Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein began with the latter being bowled over by the early recordings which the composer had made of his own works. But since 2012 it has been both a keyboard partnership and also a creative one: Berceuse, the Mazurkas and the Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face were all written for the Russian-American pianist to perform. Gerstein compares the way this music, like the music of Beethoven and Bach, has become part of his DNA, the difference being that with this living composer he can discuss details of performance. Gerstein talks about Adès’s ‘irrational meters’, and the infinite precision required to render the flow of these pieces. And also about their tonality, which in the case of Berceuse is described by Adès as ‘irrationally functional’. Adès’s notation, says Gerstein, creates a precisely shaped written-out rubato.

Composer and pianist may talk in terms of ideas and technicalities, but when I listen to this recording the words I jot down are all impressionistic: it makes an exhilarating hour of beauty and strangeness. The two-piano Powder Her Face paraphrase is an expansion of the original solo one Adès made and, as Gerstein points out it, allows the two instruments to play resonantly off each other – for example, one playing short, percussive notes while the other surrounds it in an enveloping fog. Contrasting with the cheeky pastiches of Powder Her Face, Berceuse is poised and exquisitely tender, and the Mazurkas – Chopinesque in gesture and rhythm – feel like a translation into a parallel musical language which is somehow entirely recognisable. Adès has given In Seven Days a clear literary programme – Gerstein describes it as being about the birth of the universe – but for me it’s simply a triumphant cavalcade of delicately glittering and gloriously sensuous effects.

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Michael Church