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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 March 2010
Thomas Ades seems to get rave reviews and barbed insults from critics in equal measure: often for the same piece - read the reviews for Powder her Face. The line seems to veer between, "greatest since Britten" and "too clever by half". Some critics abroad resent the "next Britten" tag that some British critics are keen to label Ades as.

I suspect that the critics in the latter category will feel much happier with this compilation of more recent works. They show less of his youthful talent for parody and shock combined with technical prowess - admittedly the Powder her Face Suite is another dose of that. They'll be happier with growing signs of musical middle aged spread. The prime example here is the so called "masterpiece" Tevot. Ades has moved to a more weighty orchestration here, less concerned with parody and quotation. Indeed Tevot sounds positively late romantic at times, particularly towards its conclusion with its rocking, cradling theme and affirmative conclusion.

Don't get too carried away with the praise it's had, saying it's like nothing ever heard before. That's plainly not so but it is none the worse for that. It is a magnificent work lasting about 22 minutes and it leaves me at least craving for more. The description of the work symbolising some large vessel carrying its load in outer space isn't too helpful: it's not Star Trek music. I think Ades might have thought of the title and the description after writing the music. You can consider either as a symphonic poem or a very well constructed one movement symphony. The analogy of a vessel safely carrying the earth's load makes me wonder whether Ades possibly wrote this as a follow up to Asyla where the safe haven seems anything but. The vessel seems to be carrying the same rather agitated passengers as in Asyla, who make quite a bit of noise in the first part of the work, but the positive conclusion is in stark contrast to the uneasy and unsettling conclusion of Asyla.

It is predominantly slow but with a constrast between busy high strings and slow moving bass instruments. There are passages fo quicker music and some clockwork hocketing style music before the music quietens and moves slowly and inexorably, rocking gently towards its more romantic sounding climax with beats on the timpani, calls from the trumpet and with high strings - this sounds like very specific passages in the second movement of Janacek's Sinfonietta.

The violin concerto similarly is on the short side - less than 20 minutes. The outer quicker movements have some similarity to the quicker movements of Ligeti's violin concerto. The wonderful chaconne like slow movement dominates the work before the dance like finale. Incidentally, the slow movement sounds very much like a dry run for tevot even, seemingly sharing some material and similar formal outline - the rocking theme makes a brief appearance. So if you cross John Adams and Gyorgy Ligeti's violin concertos you'll get the picture.

Like Tevot, I didn't want the piece to end. I'm sure he could produce an even more expansive work in this genre. It is a more "objective" or neo baroque style than the expansive Tevot. The material for the opening and middle movements sound like they are a reworking from Tevot themes - It almost sounds like the same opening. Clearly the two works are related and you do wonder which came first.

The Couperin Suite is heard through a veil of centuries, not unlike that used by Valentin Silvestrov, except Ades is directly arranging old pieces. All the performances are live but with different performers and locations. the suite offers a moment of calm and reflection before the brash work that follows.

The three pieces from Powder Her Face benefit from a very spacious live sound that suites the rather big band sound of the first movement. It's a really enjoyable suite after the weighty works at the beginnning of the disc and, again, leaves you wishing for more - if you have a stomach for such biting satire. There are conscious hints at Ravel's La Valse even in the final descent of the third piece. The music combines popular dance rhythms with the biting dark satire - maybe not to eveyone's taste.

The recorded sound for Tevot with Rattle and the Berlin PO isn't the best but it doesn't spoil the work too much. The violin concerto is well performed and reasonably well recorded - if perhaps sounding a little thin.

So overall, I think this is an essential disc for those wishing to get more familiar with Thomas Ades's work. I'm listening too it repeatedly and enjoying. He's writing some very fine music and, hopefully, we can look forward to much more in future.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 June 2011
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.
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on 18 March 2013
I bought this for Tevot which I heard on BBC Radio 3 - and it was this very recording from Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic that was aired. Tevot is a kind of a round, themes are repeated, augmented and grow in strength and power. Brass and percussion feature heavily - and passages in the woodwind remind me of Janacek at times. Ades divides critics and listeners in equal measure - but I really enjoy listening to this disc.
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on 22 April 2014
Heard live on the South Bank and immediately went out to purchase. Will be interesting to compare to the two new versions of the Violin Concerto which have just come out.
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on 5 September 2014
A fine collection of some terrific music by Thomas Ades - thank you.
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on 29 May 2010
Varied pieces, each requiring specific comments.
Tevot: A piece new to us, & will need to be heard many times. Early impressions; we like the work
Violin Concerto; preferred the more moving & involving Proms performance; but still very enjoyable
Three Studies from Couperin: enjoyable pieces to hear
Three pieces from "Powder Her Face": Now we want to hear the whole opera
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on 17 March 2010
I purchased this disc having read the review by A.R.Boyes as well as other media coverage. I was very disappointed. Far from being either "magnificent" or a "masterpiece" Tevot is rather pretentious and even boring and at 22 minutes long outstays it welcome. Don't be fooled by the apellation of "romantic": it is nothing of the sort. Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic do their best to make a case for the piece but I'm afraid they failed totally to convince me of its merits.
On the other hand the 2005 violin concerto, for all its shortness, is a fine work, especially the slow movement. It is beautifully played by Andrew Marwood. The Couperin Suite, in spite of a rather fuzzy recording (live like all the other items on the CD)is enjoyable. I could not get excited about the trio of pieces from Ades opera Powder Her Face. I have not seen the opera so cannot judge how the pieces come over in their original context but they are rather bland, indeed banal. So to sum up, if you are prepared to invest your money in this disc for the sake of just 20 minutes of the violin concerto then go ahead but if you feel that is somewhat short measure for the cost involved then I would suggest you think carefully before buying. My three stars are for the concerto and its perforamnce alone.
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