Composers: Thomas Adès
Compositions: Piano Concerto, Totentanz
Performers: Kirill Gerstein p, Christianne Stotijn ms, Mark Stone bar, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adès cond
Catalogue Number: DG 4837998

The English composer Thomas Adès is certainly one of the most performed of contemporary composers due to his early advocacy by Simon Rattle and EMI. He is also a ‘compleat’ musician in that he is not only a fine composer, he is also an excellent pianist and conductor. This new disc featuring the recent Piano Concerto (2018) with its dedicatee, Kirill Gerstein, is recorded live with the Boston Symphony at its world premiere.

The song cycle, Totentanz (Dance of Death) which dates from 2013, is similar in construction to Mahler’s vocal symphony, Das Lied von der Erde. Of course, Totentanz is familiar to German over many centuries with the composer taking his version from the one in the Marienkirche, Lübeck which was destroyed by the allies in WWII. The libretto is taken from surviving photographs of the long cloth panels. And Adès is certainly not the first to offer a musical setting of the idea. Liszt’s piece of the same name is scored for piano and orchestra and is a programmatic piece inspired by Goethe. In nearby Switzerland, Frank Martin would fashion his own version featuring vocalists, piano and orchestra, not to mention the famous Basel drums. For according to the poems which accompanied the frieze, it is the dance which every man must undertake – from the pope to the peasant, from the aristocrat to the baby.

Throughout the orchestra must be applauded for the commitment to the pieces here – veering from the mastery of Adès’ modern idiom to regular examples of great beauty in both. Gerstein proves to be the ideal soloist in this often complex work yet complexities aside, as in his violin concerto “Concentric Paths”, Adès shows just why he is so regularly programmed and recorded. The work is a wide ranging and excitement ride over various meters, tempi and styles, starting with George Gershwin.

In his first disc for the Yellow label, Thomas Adès has delivered a great one.