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.
There is not much more to add...this is surely his finest moment. Can he sustain it is the question? The EMI marketing must help, but how long will it last? This is perhaps the best buy of the year. For me 'Gefriolsae Me' is the most telling track on this disc. It is early Adès and yet the best. Even without the tangos or blues it is still hard hitting. Fantastic. Buy now!
Despite the early hype :still underwhelming.. 3 out of 5 stars
After reviewing another Ades early EMI release "Asyla" a few months ago - I thought it was high time (ok ten years on..) I finally bought Living Toys the 2nd cd release as part of this young UK composer's 7 disc contract with EMI. the works here were composed between 1990-94.
"Living Toys" composed in 1993 for the London Sinfonietta is certainly exuberant, clever,multi-layered work that references a bit of this a bit of that : jazz,off kilter time signatures,in fact a whole gamut of late 20thC composer maximalist gestures - perhaps a little like John Adam's chamber symphony + also similar to Ades own Asyla orchestral work. Clever but ultimately for me hollow.
Ades only string quartet "Arcadia" remains for me the stand out work here with its subdued, sparse textures + restrained mostly classical writing, reminiscent of Britten, Ligeti or Gubaidulina's quartets. Not as strong an individual voice from Ades however. Evocative, if hardly startling but promising all the same.
"Sonata da Caccia" + "The Origin of the Harp"are both curious works for small ensemble + are neo-baroque works that deliberately evoke 18th C composer Couperin in a way that doesn't really strike a strong emotional chord. Rather like Stravinsky's neo-classical works such as his violin concerto or duo concertante .Ades here is certainly pressingly clear in texture + design away from the more is more late modernist school of Carter, Boulex at least, yet lacking impact or innovative own voice.
Final work "Gefriolsae Me"for Choir is again another retrograde short piece that may well continue the tradtion of choral writing but seems to offer little genuine new directions or strong impact.
After all the hype that accompanied Thomas Ades arrival in the 1990's this cd of his early work highlights a cerebral, rather strongly emotive "new" voice. A little underwhelming for this listener..
Sound is fine, with reasonably detailed booklet notes.