Thomas Adès: Illuminating from Within (YAN.005)

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Thomas Adès
Illuminating from Within

Winston Choi piano
Recorded 2015 by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: October 30, 2015

If ever there was a composer who worked in light, it would be Thomas Adès. As the subject of this recital by Canadian pianist Winston Choi, he comes across as someone interested not so much in the metaphysical as the metaphorical. Traced Overhead (1995/96), for one, takes its inspiration from the iconography of angels, and in drawing that connection molds transcendence and ascension as motifs worthy of articulation at the keyboard. Such heavenly associations, however, remind us of flesh’s sinful tendencies and of the material world that keeps its desires running smoothly. As two relatively shorter movements shift into a protracted third, in which the scratch of thorns blood-lets a sacred disembodiment, the dichotomy of inner/outer ceases to be real. The Three Mazurkas (2009) that follow are brimming with detail. Originally written for Emanuel Ax and tipping their shared hat to Chopin, they showcase a full integration of sound, color, and environment even as dance steps are obscured through the filter of personal expression.

Thrift (A Cliff Tower) (2012) begins a chain of standalone works. Its roiling textures, viewed (and heard) as if from a precipice, are an appropriate prelude to Darknesse Visible (1992). This nervous translation of John Dowland’s “In darkness let me dwell” is strangely bright. The end result is no longer a song but something else entirely. Still Sorrowing (1992), also rooted in Dowland, lights a decidedly nocturnal stove. Muted strings and plant-like forms grow in honest profusion. All of which makes the Concert Paraphrase (2009) feel like a masochistic slap. This free transcription of Adès’s first opera, Powder Her Face, is dramatic, halting, and intensely physical. Between fiercely lyrical asides and gently tumultuous arias it strings tightropes of Weimar-era cabaret, romanticism, and fantasy. More real than anything, for nothing is real without a little makeup to offset the truth.

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