This outstanding disc is EMI's second of music by Ades, and creditably it is also issued at budget price - a real bargain for listeners new to this music. Living Toys is a tour de force: it's hard not to be bowled over by the sheer excitement and verve of its opening, and enthralled by the wealth of invention and intimate expression thereafter. As the excellent programme notes point out, this is young man's music (the composer was a precocious 22 when the work was first performed by the London Sinfonietta), but crucially Ades never gets carried away in his inventive exuberance. This goes even for the extended piccolo trumpet solo, surely one of the most formidable in the repertoire. I was particularly impressed with the maturity of the work's almost narrative structure (based on a fragment of Spanish folklore) and the instrumentation of the work's quieter moments is often touching and novel. The London Sinfonietta under Stenz play beautifully and often virtuosically; and the trumpet playing...!
Of the other works on the disc, the string quartet Arcadiana (played sinuously by the Endellion Quartet) has received most attention, though I must admit unease at the range of styles it encompasses. My reservations aside, it's self-evidently accomplished music, and there are moments of real beauty - witness the stratospheric violin harmonics in the middle section.
The Origin of the Harp, a shortish ensemble piece, is a good example of Ades's exploitation of unusual ensembles; and the Sonata da Caccia, for harpsichord, baroque oboe and natural horn, is a light but witty tribute to his beloved Couperin - but with contemporary touches (do I detect the influence of Gyorgy Ligeti?) The shortest piece on this disc is the anthem Gefriolsae Me: a minor student work, but it still puts most recent church music in the shade.