Thomas Adès and (Le) Poisson Rouge

Thomas Adès and (Le) Poisson Rouge
(Le) Poisson Rouge is a multimedia art cabaret founded by musicians on the site of the historic Village Gate in New York and on the 5th January it played host to Gloria Cheng and the Calder Quartet, performing works by Thomas Adès amongst others.

Gloria Cheng performed Mazurkas and was then joined by the Calder Quartet to perform Adès’ much acclaimed Piano Quintet.  One reviewer suggested it was the works of Thomas Adès that shone in this unconventional venue:
‘In her performance to a sell-out crowd at Le Poisson Rouge last night, she played the works of seven composers (two of whom were in attendance), and wowed the knowledgeable listeners with every work. Whether lyrical or dissonant, enigmatic or ephemeral, Ms. Cheng played with the same amount of commitment and concentration. Yet at the end of the evening it took some imagination to remember which were brilliant and lasting, and which were minor and pleasant.

With two exceptions. The final two works were both by the great British composer Thomas Adès, one for solo, the other with the Calder Quartet. Both of them were so interesting by themselves that the other pieces faded into a faraway memory.

Three Mazurkas had three entirely different moods, they were rhythmic homages of Chopin, yet they all exemplified a British composer who could be compared to a Metaphysical Poet. In all three, he took a relatively simple idea, and almost created some variations/developments. But not quite. For in the initial bluesy, laid-back (Ms. Cheng’s words) mazurka, one could hear the resonances of Chopin in three-quarter time, but shadows of an easy going theme slightly transformed. The third was most entrancing, a fractured theme over many octaves, repeated again yet more sensitively.

The second, was described as Adès’ Flight of the Bumblebee. But the latter was a whirring melody. This was like a Metaphysical conceit, the crazy melody mutating into two or three melodies one or two notes off. A tour de force, yes, but with those little surprises to keep it on edge.  (Of course it was labeled Prestissimo. To quote Shakespeare on Metaphysical poets, “If it were Donne, t’were well that it were Donne quickly.”)

Longer and even more puzzling was Adès’ Piano Quintet. One long movement starting with a simple “Do, Re, Mi” almost becoming a fugue. And now we have Adès almost cloning older composers. Was this a Schubert or Schumann piano solo that we heard, repeated with string figurations breaking it up? No, the composer says it was all original. It simply fit. More measures in a wild waltz rhythm seemed a parody of Ravel’s La Valse. But the Ravel itself is a fracturing of an older form, so Adès simply fractures it more.

But this was no clever pastiche à la Luciano Berio. Piano and quartet wandered in and out of classical harmonies with inevitability, as if Mr. Adès felt that such throwbacks were not conscious reversions but essential formations.' (Harry Rolnick) 6th January 2011

Click here to find out more about (Le) Poisson Rouge and here to read the full review.