Thomas Adès: Dante
Los Angeles Master Chorale; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel (Nonesuch)
Los Angeles Master Chorale; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel
Nonesuch 7559790616 91:42 mins (2 discs)
The brass section issues a repeated, siren call; bells clang and timpani rumbles – as fragmented, off-beat rhythms clash with increasingly unsettling, clamouring melodies, the listener abandons hope and enters eternal damnation (actually 45 minutes).
Thomas Adès’s Dante is based on that Italian writer’s epic The Divine Comedy, with three acts (‘Inferno’, ‘Purgatorio’, ‘Paradiso’) loosely following the text. Although conceived as a ballet – The Dante Project appeared at the Royal Opera House in 2021, coinciding with the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri – the piece has also been performed in concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel, from which this superb premiere recording is taken.
Dante’s influence has been widely felt across the centuries, most notably by Liszt, whose Dante Sonata and Dante Symphony play on the demonic harmony the composer was known for. Adès takes this legacy and develops it further; in the opeing ‘Inferno’, the aggressive piano part in ‘The Suicides’ is virtuosic and harrowing; the rumbustious ‘The Thieves’ canters along mischievously. Just as you might worry that this could turn into a Marvel film soundtrack, Adès peels away some of the orchestral layers to reveal recorded voices from the congregation at the Great Ades Synagogue in Jerusalem, whose prayers imaginatively represent the lost souls in purgatory. These are embellished with textural colour that brightens with ‘The Earthly Paradise’; a sinewy, sparkling melodic thread hints at the later ascending theme. Dudamel pushes the LA Phil upwards, to climb the ladder and emerge blinking into white light.