Ades conducts Ades - Piano Concerto, Totentanz
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Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat No: 4837998
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 28th February 2020
ArtistsKirill Gerstein (piano)
Mark Stone (baritone)
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
This live recording of what turned out to be a ravishing celebration of contemporary music, receiving rapturous response from audience and critics alike, is paired on the album with Adès’s 2013 work Totentanz.
Totentanz brings together baritone (Mark Stone) and mezzo-soprano (Christianne Stotijn) soloists with a (very) large orchestra, unfolding a dialogue between a charismatic and gleefully macabre Grim Reaper and the procession of his many victims, from Pope to Maiden and Child.
1Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra - 1. -[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2019]
2Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra - 2. -[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2019]
3Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra - 3. -[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2019]
4Adès: Totentanz - Der Prediger[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
5Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
6Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Papst – Der Papst[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
7Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Kaiser – Der Kaiser[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
8Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Kardinal – Der Kardinal[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
9Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum König – Der König[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
10Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Mönch – Der Mönch[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
11Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Ritter – Der Ritter – Der Tod zum Bürgermeister – Der Bürgermeister[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
12Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Arzt – Der Arzt – Der Tod zum Wucherer – Der Wucherer[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
13Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Kaufmann – Der Kaufmann[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
14Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Küster – Der Küster – Der Tod zum Küster[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
15Adès: Totentanz - Der Handwerker – Der Tod zum Handwerker[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
16Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Bauer – Der Bauer[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
17Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Mädchen – Das Mädchen[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
18Adès: Totentanz - Der Tod zum Kind – Das Kind[Live at Symphony Hall, Boston / 2016]
When, some time in the future, the definitive history of Western art music is written, several chapters might be given over to the extraordinary resilience of the solo concerto as a fruitful form for composers from Vivaldi and Bach to Schoenberg and Berg, Birtwistle and Adès, and (hopefully) well beyond. The pitting of a solo instrument against ever-expanding orchestral forces seems to speak particularly powerful not just to composers and performers but to audiences as well, as if we all identified and sympathised with the soloist’s position, set against the bewildering multiplicity of forces in the modern world. In this particular case, the soloist is keyboard wizard Kirill Gerstein, who, having collaborated with Adès on other projects, asked him to write ‘a proper piano concerto’, to a BSO commission that was agreed virtually immediately. Adès readily obliged with a work in the customary three-movement form, which seems to throw together the worlds of Ravel, Prokofiev and Bartók into a fantastic mixing bowl, resulting in a work that was soon hailed as a modern classic.
The first movement bursts into life with a jazzy swing, carefully composed-in by Adès, the soloist part of the mix from the outset in writing that combines formidable technical demands with an equally impressive idiomaticity. The rhythmic drive of the main ‘tune’ contrasts with a second theme of rhapsodic reflectiveness, punctuated by a spikier, more mechanical interjection, before expanding to shimmering cascades. With orchestral writing every bit as skilful as the solo part, and a remarkable formal clarity, this first movement sets up the concise, twenty-minute work as one of exceptional power. Solemn, imposing-voiced chords for woodwind and brass open the central slow movement (Andante gravemente) before the fragile entry of the soloist, supported discreetly by the soft tread of the orchestra; the solo interludes become more expansive, but always returning to this slow processional.
The finale, marked Allegro gioioso, starts off like a version of the work’s opening on speed, with wailing E flat clarinet giving it a twist of craziness, but soon mood of the funereal slow movement intrudes, taken to an intense climax before subsiding almost to nothing, a signal for the high-jinks of the movement’s opening to return, the writing ever more virtuosic with brilliant octave scales and a final closing flourish. It makes for a tremendously engaging work, accessible but also impressively virtuosic, and eclectic in the best sense. A modern classic? Time will tell, but if there are few pianists of Gerstein’s talents to meet its exacting demands, the gauntlet is there for them to take! Audiences are sure to love it.
The funereal undertow of the Piano Concerto forms a linking thread with the second work on this disc, Totentanz (Dance of Death or Danse macabre). It sets an anonymous medieval text that accompanied the famous Totentanz frieze in the Marienkirche, Lübeck, destroyed by allied bombing in World War II but preserved in prints and in black and white photographs. In it, the skeletal figure of Death leads the high and the low (in strictly descending order, from Pope and Emperor to peasant and babe in a cradle) on the dance we must all partake in at some point.
Adès has a baritone (here, the suitably grim-toned Mark Stone) as Death, alternating with a mezzo-soprano (Christianne Stotijn, who sang in the work’s first performances) who portrays all the other characters. The two-voice pairing with vast orchestra brings to mind Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, but the continuous music, divided into clear sections as Death and his subjects (some resigned, others more resistant) alternate, is more reminiscent of the Second Viennese School, and Berg in particular. As befits the subject, this is music of uncompromising toughness, but Adès uses the orchestra to bring distinct character to each of the exchanges with, for example, a metallic clangour to the sound suggesting the knights armour.
Towards the end of this imposing, 35-minute work (Adès’s longest single piece so far for the concert hall), the music softens, as first the welcoming peasant, then a gentle maiden and finally the helpless child seem to soften even Death’s heart. As the pace becomes slower, distinct tonal centres emerge, and there’s an almost Straussian radiance to the final exchanges before the work ends with a Mahlerian growl from contrabassoons, piano and percussion. Adès skilfully weaves into the music the inevitability of the subject matter, and the result is a work of extraordinary power, even by his standards. Less immediately appealing than the concerto, it handsomely repays repeated listening, and this performance, with soloists and orchestra all in tremendous form, has the stamp of true greatness on it. An overwhelming end to an exceptionally rewarding release.
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