Monday 22 June 2009

Ades, Isserlis and Marwood play Faure, Liszt, Ades, Janacek and Ravel (and the mystery of the birthday present)

One of the highlights of last year's Aldeburgh festival was a recital given by Thomas Ades and Steven Isserlis. That, of course, was Ades' final year as festival artistic director. However, his failure to finish his new sonata in time for that concert meant that both he and Isserlis had to come back and play it this year, and from the moment the programme was published, I knew it was a must hear event. I was not disappointed.

The programme began with Faure's cello sonata no.2 in G minor, op.117. A nicely lyrical piece (though the piano seemed a little too prominent in the first movement, but not knowing the piece, this may be intended). The slow movement was especially sublime.

This was followed by two pieces for cello and piano by Liszt. Romance Oubliee was marked by some exquisitely delicate playing from both Ades and Isserlis. La lugubre gondola was heavier and slightly more melodramatic, yet contained some fascinating contrasts between the two instruments.

Then, before the interval, came Ades' new composition, Lieux retrouves (rediscovered places). It divides into four movements: Les eaux (waters), La montagne (the mountain), Les Champs (fields) and La ville (the city). I'm not always a fan of programatic works, but this was an example of how good they can be. The opening movement, with its flowing and tuneful nature, perhaps captured its subject best. The second movement, somewhat halting at times, was meant to convey climbing. However, to me it had a wonderfully, almost jazzy feel to it. The fields were beautiful, especially the tantalising climb Isserlis made to the highest registers of his instrument at the very end. After a slightly stop start opening, the city, capturing fully the hubbub and bustle, danced, tangoed almost, away towards an astonishing, and at times witty, virtuosic frenzy. Isserlis, his wild locks shaking about dramatically, outdid even David Watkin (the SCO's ever enthusiastic principal cellist) in energy. My only regret: Isserlis had spread his music across two stands so there was no need for a repeat of the impressive page turning display from last year's unknown Hess student who turned Ades' pages, got up, turned for Isserlis and returned and picked up where he left off without missing a beat (I still think he deserved a credit, so if you know who he was, get in touch).

Following the interval Isserlis was replaced Anthony Marwood. Marwood and Ades have worked together before of course, on the violin concerto he composed for him, and which I so enjoyed at the Edinburgh festival two years ago. Together they played Janacek's violin sonata. This was a lovely and lyrical piece, if not having quite the same colour as his cello sonata last year or his string quartet earlier in the week. At times, however, it carried more than a hint of his operatic writing. Marwood's playing was exceptional, especially in some of his delicate bowing in the third movement.

All three took to the stage for Ravel's piano trio with which the evening closed. This was a rich and colourful work, showcasing the composer's talent for interesting orchestration, even in an ensemble so small. There was, too, a great range of emotion to the piece. Their playing was of the highest standards, both in the quieter moments and also in the incredible drama that closed the second and fourth movements. They came together well as a scratch trio, something that isn't always the case.

It was one of the finest performances of this year's festival so far and it must be hoped that Ades returns with further commissions in future years, even though his tenure is now ended. For those who were not there, and even those who were, the concert is broadcast on Radio 3 on 24th June. Hopefully someone will have the sense to get Ades and Isserlis into the studio to make a recording. Failing that, it is a co-commission the Wigmore and Carnegie Halls, so it will doubtless be heard there in due course.

Which leaves only to the mystery of the birthday present. To quote from my review of last year's concert:

Unfortunately, so busy is Ades, that this was not yet finished for Tuesday's concert. Doubly unfortunate since the programme informs us that it "was commissioned by John Makinson for Ginny Macbeth's birthday"; she, like the rest of us, will have to wait until next year. Still, Ades and Isserlis played a concert that was a fine gift even so.

Perhaps she didn't want to wait, as this year it is simply an Aldeburgh commission, with the Halls mentioned above and support from Alan Swerdlow and Jeremy Greenwood. Possibly there is an interesting story behind this change, possibly not, but I'd love to know.


KimTate said...

It feels almost greedy to ask for additional information about Lieux Retrouves since it was only premiered a few hours ago, but I'm currently writing my disseration on Ades' most recent music so any further descriptions and impression would be most appreciated. Sadly, due to a contract with the work's co-commissioners, Faber dosen't plan to release the score for at least another couple of years, but thankfully the Radio 3 broadcast is imminent. Many thanks.

Tam Pollard said...

Sounds interesting.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can add much to what I've written above. I would say that I'd judge it as one of his more accessible pieces (particularly the tuneful opening movement). It has does seem to have a French feel to it.

Beyond that all I could do is copy out Arnold Whittall's proramme note which does go into more detail, but I don't want to breach the copyright on that. If you drop Aldeburgh a line via email I expect they might let you have a copy of it though.

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