This disc of works by Thomas Adès raises more questions than it answers. Although there is a lot to enjoy in the disc, there are also warning signs of his talent being spread too thinly.
Exhibit A is Tevot, where Adès seems to have responded to a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic by producing a very fashionable slice of concert-house stodge. Short of music but very long on thick orchestration, this is bound to be lapped up by orchestras, and sounds suspiciously like the latter works of John Adams, who does this sort of thing somewhat better. Tevot feels, at 22 minutes, rather long and portions of protracted scalewise motion seem laboured. It's not bad, but not great either.
The Violin Concerto shares some of Tevot's features: again, scalewise motion is too often employed, but the violin writing is very good, and the score more detailed and brilliant. Anthony Marwood on violin is excellent in a work where the writing for soloist calls for expression rather than technical fireworks. This is an accessible modern work and, while hardly cutting-edge, is a major draw of this disc.
My favourite works here are the Three Studies from Couperin. Set free from the need to produce his own musical material, Adès is able to function purely as a superb orchestrator, coaxing very lovely sounds out of the orchestration while taking an approach to the melodies that leaves one in no doubt that this is no longer a Medieval work. I was reminded of Tippett's Corelli Fantasia: the Couperin Studies have a very "English" feel that befits the supposed heir to Britten.
The final work is a reorchestration for larger forces of instrumental interludes from the opera Powder Her Face. The Overture, to me, is ghastly: overwritten jazz pastiche with such a brutal parodic feel that it sits very uncomfortably on the disc. The "Waltz", by contrast, is unobjectional but sounds too much like underscoring for a film. The "Finale" - again rather parodic in feel - reminds me of Adams's The Chairman Dances, also extracted from an opera and again a very much more significant work. Overall, a very disappointing triptych.
For me, the strongest evidence for the claim that Adès is the major British composer of our time remains his opera of The Tempest, where the narrative knits together his mercurial changes of style and approach. This disc, by contrast, will satisfy many fans, and entertain many listeners who have found his earlier work off-putting, but it also raises fears that Adès's unique strengths may become diluted in his inexorable march to the concert hall.