Thomas Adès conducts Samuel Dale Johnson and the LSO

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COMPOSERS: Asyla,Brahms,Polaris,Tevot
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Adès
WORKS: Asyla; Tevot; Polaris; Brahms
PERFORMER: Samuel Dale Johnson (baritone); London Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Adès
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0798 (Blu-ray & hybrid CD/SACD)

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Here’s a useful survey of Adès’s major orchestral works, performed live under the composer’s baton. While that lends a certain authenticity, it does not always guarantee success. The audacious Asyla (1997), in particular, feels less cogent, less propulsive and integrated than in Simon Rattle and the CBSO’s hands. In that 1998 recording there’s an impressive meshing of texture, and even a depth of field that’s missing here, despite the SACD. The bass drum beats in ‘Ecstasio’ feel less Ibiza rave, more crude one-man band.

If Asyla lacks tension, Tevot’s scintillating surge is brilliantly realised, as Adès’s ‘ark’ rides the glistening orchestral waves towards us. There’s sheer pleasure to be had in its sonic grandeur, a sense of music being hurled and kneaded by some deranged baker, and of moving across different kinds of dance floor, before floating away upon stillness.

The Blu-ray Audio really comes into its own for Polaris, a journey through space, whose ‘poles’ are set up by three brass groups arranged around the hall. Emerging from an unassuming looping pattern on the piano, it grows into a mesmerising, ever-expanding spiral of sound, augmenting, imploding, and fragmenting, combining brash triumphalism with the mysticism of early Ives, high trumpets calling high above the music’s magnetic field.

One feared for poor Brahms when Adès decided to set Alfred Brendel’s eponymous poem: Adès has publically declared the composer a ‘phoney’ and ‘amateurish’. Such resentment actually suggests conflicted intimacy. In his setting for baritone he deliberately strips the warmth and the beauty from the first phrases of the Fourth Symphony ‘leaving only the logic’. An odd evisceration.

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Helen Wallace