CD+DVD Reviews

“In Seven Days” = THOMAS ADES: In Seven Days; CONLON NANCARROW : Studies No. 6 & 7 – Signum Classics CD+DVD

The always interesting Ades in a fascinating multi-media work.

Published on March 10, 2012

“In Seven Days” = THOMAS ADES: In Seven Days; CONLON NANCARROW : Studies No. 6 & 7 – Nicolas Hodges, piano/London Sinfonietta/ Thomas Ades, cond./Thomas Ades & Rolf Hind, pianos – Signum Classics CD+DVD SIGCD277, 42:36 (Distr. by Qualiton) ****:

Thomas Ades is an always interesting composer whose work has covered just about every genre and gone through some interesting developments. Some of his earliest work was nearly atonal and—to me—dense, complex and a little hard to understand. There has always been appreciable talent and craft to this multi-faceted Englishman. With every piece, I become a become admirer. Some of Ades’s more recent work has a decidedly neo-Romantic approach and more than a passing reliance on traditional musical, literary and religious sources for inspiration. I have been particularly impressed by works such as his Violin Concerto, Tevot for orchestra and his opera, The Tempest.

This work, The Seven Days, is a broad, sweeping and wholly attractive depiction and musical and visual terms of the story of creation from the Biblical book of Genesis. The movements are, characteristically, labeled “Chaos-Light-Dark”, “Separation of the waters into sea and sky”, “Land-Grass-Trees”, “Stars-Sun-Moon”, “Creatures of the Sea and Sky”, “Creatures of the Land” and “Contemplation” – seven in all. This work of Biblical proportion was premiered in 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall and, shortly thereafter, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Ades explains that his work is a reflection on the creation in its Biblical meaning but also in the sense of a “genesis” of music from simple ideas. In fact, In Seven Days, is essentially a set of variations for piano and orchestra wherein a couple of simple rising scalar passages (two and three ascending seconds) are developed into the most amazing landscape of timbres, counterpoint and mood. In fact, it is nearly cinematic in its sonic depictions of the very visually stimulating concepts of “chaos”, “separation”, “stars” and so forth. We see that Ades is making a complex—and aurally stunning!— structure out of the simple but I could not help be moved by the religious and astronomical imagery that this extremely attention-getting work conjures up even without the video.

The video that accompanies the performance is by the renowned Israeli artist Tal Rosner. According to Rosner’s own booklet notes, the imagery is a blend of naturalistic imagery such as sky, clouds, and so and forth and also the architectural components of the halls in which the work was premiered – London Royal Festival Hall and Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall. For example, in Day 3 (movement three) the music that references trees is accompanied by layers of scaffolding and the inner skeletal aspects of the WDCH that cannot be seen to the outside under its sleek, curved metallic exterior. It is a multi-image display with six separate screens which sometimes work together to make one big image. I would genuinely like to see the work in its multi-dimensional entirety live. The music impressed me deeply and one can only imagine what an experience it would be.

This disc also include Ades and fellow pianist Rolf Hind performing two of the Nancarrow Studies for Player Piano in the composer’s own reworking for piano duet. Study No. 6 is quirky, jazz inspired little foray into layered rhythms and the Study No. 7 is quite a bit more complex. Their inclusion here is due to the fact that Tal Rosner and fellow filmmaker Sophie Clements made a video to accompany these pieces as well. According to booklet notes, there is what sounds like an interesting use of color and some geometric sketches that probably enhance the listening experience. I confess I have never been a big fan of Nancarrow’s music. It is, of course, difficult to play and Ades and Hind do play very well. It’s just that it’s a bit anti-climactic after hearing Ades’ In Seven Days. [It’s not a very good match with the featured work, but I liked these better than the Ades work—especially the animated designs inspired by the holes in Nancarrow’s piano rolls...Ed.]

Good news – This package includes a DVD that gives us the whole video and music for each of these pieces and also featuring an interview with Thomas Ades and Tal Rosner. It gives us a glimpse into the creation process and the production of this work and their other collaborations that I found fascinating. Rosner’s imagery is truly amazing – varying from abstract and geometric to organic and primeval. I imagine that most listeners would truly enjoy In Seven Days.  I suggest playing the Nancarrow first, taking in its creativity and difficulty but then listen to the Ades In Seven Days and let the closing Day 7 wash over you and – hopefully – being as impressed as I was with the scope and imagery of creation! [Since it is a DVD, why didn’t they offer 5.1 surround instead of plain two-channel? Would make it more of a multi-media experience too...Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs




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