description It has been an emotional, psychological and sonic journey, to delve deep into the piano works of Thomas Adès. The instrumental color and range of sonority is immense; as is the scope of musical expression. One cannot reduce Adès' music to generalities, as there is such variety and inventiveness. His music is as full of depth as it is playful; as it is dramatic as it is spiritual.
Remarkable innovation can be heard in this piano music, yet there is often the exploration of familiar musical ideas and gestures. Darknesse Visible (1992) is a haunting re-imagining or "explosion" of a John Dowland lute song (In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell). Adès has completely flipped it around and looked at it through a different lens, viewed through distorted mirrors, changing our very perception of the work; in his words, "illuminating the song from within".
Still Sorrowing (1992) takes the creative use of drastically limiting instrumental color (through muting the middle register strings) to suggest sentiments of loss and despair. Also drawing upon Dowland ("Semper Dowland simper dolens"), this is an strikingly powerful work which unfolds in a revelatory way, through its use of textural and timbral development.
Traced Overhead (1995-96) was inspired by the swirling images of the ascension of angels towards the shining lights of heaven. Concepts of time and space, are re-explored in an imaginative and sprawling way, with the rich and resonant treatment of the piano framing this wonderful work. It is kaleidoscopic in color, challenging the pianist to find an enormous palette of colors to draw upon. There are extreme complexities woven into the very fabric of the music, from rhythmic intricacies, to interpretive and physical challenges. It is astonishingly nuanced music with incredibly detailed notation, yet with a very strong sense of structure.
Written for Emanuel Ax, the Mazurkas (2009) pay homage to Chopin. The typical accentuation, ornamentation and phrasings of Mazurkas are clearly heard, yet Adès plays with our sense of expectation, challenging us to re-think our comfort with what we are accustomed to. Fascinating miniatures, all three of these works are tremendously subtle, with harmonic, rhythmic and melodic shifts bubbling to the surface throughout.
Concert Paraphrase on Powder her Face (2010) is a virtuosic work in the grand manner of the operatic piano paraphrases of Liszt and Busoni, taking Ades' first opera, Powder her Face and freely transcribing it. Its four movements represent impetuous writing at its finest, while idiosyncratic. Virtuosic, full of contrast, and extravagant use of the piano, its manner of expression is propulsive and rhapsodic.
One can find a unity within each particular work, emerging as the result of the composer's integrity and absolute clarity of thought. At the same time, Adès completely reinvents himself with each piano work of his, exploring vastly different compositional techniques, modes of expression, stylistic concerns and use of the instrument. A unique and singular voice, Adès and his music that will surely stand the test of time and be enjoyed by many pianists and future audiences alike.
Recording and mixing - Nicolas Baillard (Studios La Buissonne 2015)
Mastering - Nicolas Baillard (Studios La Buissonne)
Preparation of the Steinway - Alain Massonneau
Production - Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Artistic Direction - Pascale Berthelot
Translations - Carmen Herrera et Marc Thouvenot
Publishing - Faber Music
Painting - Philippe Thouvenot
Photographs - Thomas Couderc
Graphic design - Lucas Linares