Score 0571520111 on sale
1 Moderato, molto rubato
2 Prestissimo molto espressiveo
3 Grave, espressivo
Emanuel Ax’s request for a hand (or two) in celebrating the Chopin bicentenary could not have been better addressed, Thomas Adès having a pianist ‘s sense of the luminosity, a glowing and exploratory feeling for harmony, and a fascination with tweaking dance rhythms. These mazurkas listen to the Polish folk genre as it was listened to by Chopin, except that its dotted rhythms in triple time and the heave of its shifting accents are now caught from further off, in a stranger world.
The first piece opens at once in that world, with a theme based on a characteristic Adèsian pattern of widening intervals in descent and also on mazurka features. This theme trickles down and up, and develops towards music that is faster and strictly in tempo, music that introduces another mazurka element: the ostinato of gathering energy. A turn of speed ensues, followed by the initial theme again, very high, before the piece vanishes into the keyhole of it iridescent tonality: A.
Silvery and ungraspable, the second mazurka entwines lines that spiral downwards while tugging against one another rhythmically, the left hand at the start moving in even crotchets while the right whirls in alternating pairs of quavers. The delirium does not abate, though it changes. About halfway through, the left hand starts to sound like an unruly dance accompaniment, moving to a lower register and knocking the rhythm between triple time and duple; the marking is “boisterously”. Again the movement finds its harmonic destination, on F
The endpiece brings forward yet another aspect of the mazurka: its melancholy. At the outset the weight in carried lightly, each hand playing one note at a time and moving among wide-ranging registers. There is a central section where, contrastingly, everything unfolds in the middle of the piano (and very quietly). Then comes a varied and texturally elaborated reprise, with the movement’s one rise in dynamic level before it subsides toward a close on a triton displaced across almost the entire width of the keyboard.
© Paul Griffiths