Tuesday 16 June 2020

A picture of a musical collaboration: 'In Seven Days' from Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein

Thomas Adès Concert paraphrase on "Powder her face",Berceuse from "The Exterminating Angel", Mazurkas, In Seven Days; Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; MYRIOS
Thomas Adès Concert paraphrase on "Powder her face",Berceuse from "The Exterminating Angel", Mazurkas, In Seven Days; Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; MYRIOS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 June 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A testament to a musical relationship, Thomas Adès joins pianist Kirill Gerstein as composer, pianist and conductor

Following on from their recent collaboration on Thomas Adès's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra [on Adès conducts Adès on Deutsche Grammophon, see my review], Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein return with a further joint project. In seven days on Myrios Classics features four of Thomas Adès pieces performed by pianist Kirill Gerstein, with Adès demonstrating his versatility by joining with Gerstein as pianist to perform the Concert paraphrase on "Powder her face" for two pianos, and conducting Gerstein and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in "In seven days" for piano and orchestra. As solo pianist Gerstein plays another paraphrase, this time from Adès' most recent opera, the Berceuse from "The Exterminating Angel" for piano, plus Mazurkas for Piano.

Since 2012, Kirill Gerstein has been a frequent collaborator of Thomas Adès, and was the direct inspirer for some of the music on this disc. As a pianist, Gerstein regularly plays music by pianist composers such as Chopin, Lizst and Busoni [see my review of Gerstein's recording of Busoni's Piano Concerto], but his relationship with Thomas Adès means that he can interrogate the composer about detail in the music in a way that is not possible with the earlier composers. Gerstein says of the experience, "It really feels like working with one of those composers one grows up with – except this is here and now, and it’s such a vibrant experience". But it has not been all plain sailing, and in the CD booklet, Gerstein talks about first learning Seven Days in 2012, "I remember staring at the first page and not understanding what to do with these so-called irrational meters – divisions of the bar in Adès’s score based on note values other than more conventional quarter- and eighth-notes – and then closing the part after 30 minutes, and going for a coffee. But when I figured out what may be meant, and how to read it, I saw that the notation is all about shaping a different perception of time in music, the way that Tom’s scores create a very precisely shaped written-out rubato. He controls time in a logical but asymmetrical way, not constrained by the bar-lines."

We being with the Concert paraphrase on "Powder her face" for two pianos, played by Kirill Gerstein and Thomas Adès. The three movement work was written in 2015, based on Adès first opera which premiered in 1995. The work is a very modern take on that old war-horse the operatic paraphrase, a nod perhaps to Gerstein's 19th century repertoire. The four episodes are described by Adès, "The first scene is Scene One, my 'Ode to Joy', here the Duchess’s perfume, Joy by Patou. The second scene in the Paraphrase is Scene Five, 'Is Daddy Squiffy?'. The third scene is Scene Four, the Aria 'Fancy being Rich!'. The Paraphrase ends with the Eighth and final scene of the opera and the aria 'It is too Late', in which the dead Duke returns as Hotel Manager to evict the Duchess from the room in which she lives, and the closing Tango in which the room is made ready for the next occupant"

It is a richly textured piece, with Adès taking full advantage of the textural possibilities of having four hands at two pianos. And out of these textures arise fragments of the popular melodies and rhythms which make the opera so engaging, and what comes over in the work is the composer and the performers' sheer joy in the music, in being able to shape such complexity yet have an approachability to it as well.

Next comes Gerstein as solo pianist, first in the Berceuse from "The Exterminating Angel" for piano. The piece was directly inspired by Gerstein, who was particularly struck by the scene in the opera where the two lovers, Eduardo and Beatriz go into a closet and kill themselves, and when he told Adès, the result was this short piece which moves from the delicately contemplative to dark drama, all the time fascinating us with Adès use of complex textures. Adès's Mazurkas were originally written for Chopin's bicentenary and premiered in 2010 by Emmanuel Ax. There are three, marked 'Moderato', ' Prestissimo' and 'Grave', by turns perky and contemplative the three all use the pianist's technique to the full

The disc finished with Adès changing roles, and conducting Gerstein and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in In Seven Days, a symphony with piano obbligato dating from 2008, which might be seen as a dry run for the Concerto for piano and orchestra. In Seven Days was originally written to accompany a video installation by Tal Rosner and the piece tells the Biblical story of the Creation in seven movements, one for each day, 'Chaos - Light - Darkness', 'Separation of the Waters into Sea and Sky - Reflection dance', 'Land - Grass - Trees', 'Stars - Sun - Moon', 'Creatures of the Sea and Sky', 'Creatures of the Land', 'Contemplation'. [You can see excerpts from the video installation on Tal Rosner's website].

The work starts with a striking orchestral section, busy yet delicate, and the piano's entry when it finally comes is highly dramatic. Throughout the piece there is an imaginative use of colour and texture, with a definite sense of dramatic narrative and whilst the work is now usually performed alone it would be interesting to see how it links to Rosner's video installation. Adès uses the extremes of the piano register to create moments of expansive drama, contrasting with moments of great delicacy. Throughout the piano solo is virtuoso and taxing, yet woven into the texture of the orchestra rather than showing off. It is a complex piece and whilst there is a strong narrative sense, it works without having to think about the creation story.

Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès (Photo Marco Borggreve)
The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra is the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Summer academy for advanced musical training, and here heard in its 2018 incarnation. And the orchestra is on fine form here, recorded live in a performance which captures the vivid colours of Adès' work.

Kirill Gerstein brings immense sympathy with Thomas Adès instrumental style, and a deftness of technique which never seems to shy away from the complexity of the composer's writing. This is an intriguing disc, which in many ways is a picture of a musical collaboration.

Thomas Adès (born 1971) - Concert paraphrase on "Powder her face" for two pianos
Thomas Adès  - Berceuse from "The Exterminating Angel" for piano
Thomas Adès  - Mazurkas
Thomas Adès  - In Seven Days
Kirill Gerstein (piano)
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra
Thomas Adès (piano/conductor)
Recorded 17 & 19 March 2019, Symphony Hall, Boston
In Seven Days recorded Live on 30 July 2018 at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, USA

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