Thomas Adès, Ades: Violin Concerto

Justin Davidson

By Justin Davidson

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Ades: Violin Concerto

Thomas Adès
Few composers can cover as much expressive territory with such insouciant agility

Both Thomas Adès's Tevot and his Concentric Paths are colossal without being long, because few composers today can cover as much expressive territory with such insouciant agility. Adès doesn't fetishize complexity, but he isn't scared of it either, and there are moments in both works when the textures become so thick and layered that it's hard to discern what's going on. The overload is deliberate, and the composer never fails to lead the listener into a clearing of hard, kaleidoscopic clarity. Tevot is gorgeously insane. In the opening, violins caress glassy harmonics, creating an effect of crystals bobbing in mid-air. Somewhere in another galaxy, various bangs, big and small, gather into a hurtling ball of sound; eventually, the score reaches a plateau of bliss, an endless exhalation of melody. The Violin Concerto, Concentric Paths, is equally eerie, not in a dimestore-spooky way, but in the sense that every note is pregnant with explosive possibilities. The fiddle speaks, and the orchestra flares, intensifying the solo line's terrors and contorting its logic. In the second movement, the violin declaims a Bach-like chord, and the brasses chime in with a sharp metallic blurt that magnifies the sound to surreal proportions — a murmur into a P.A. system. A moment later, violin and stammering brass veer apart, and the passage shatters into a Cubist still life.