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Music review: Thomas Adès and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall

April 9, 2010 | 12:45 pm

Composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Adès  – no longer the wunderkind of British music, but not quite a grizzled old-timer at 39 –  made his annual visit to Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday night.  There will be a lot more to come next April in the form of an “Aspects of Adès” festival, with a new Adès work for orchestra, Messiaen’s massive “Éclairs sur l'au-delà,” and another big work by Gerald Barry, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” among the main attractions.

Ades This gig with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, though, was one of Adès' less-ambitious ones – no extended residencies, no entirely new pieces to unveil, no trying to do everything possible short of sweeping out the hall.  It amounted to a pit stop, a time to take stock and review – and in one case, renew – previously surveyed territory, plus have some fun with a rowdy 20th century showpiece.

First came a couple of souvenirs from what is already being regarded as Adès' flaming youth.   “These Premises Are Alarmed,” which Simon Rattle did with the Phil at the 2000 Ojai Festival, bristled and glittered in Disney Hall’s highly detailed acoustics in all of its irrepressible four minutes.

The renewable item was a short suite from Adès’ first opera, “Powder Her Face,” with the orchestration expanded in 2007 from 15 instruments to a full symphony orchestra.  In essence, the inflation of means and the satirical sleaze of the music is the equivalent of fellow Brit William Walton’s orchestral suites from his youthful chamber piece, “Facade” – and it works just as well.  In contrast to the new EMI recording by Paul Daniel and a crack British youth orchestra, Adès stretched almost every rubato as far as he could, which heightened the sleaze deliciously.

The Violin Concerto (“Concentric Paths”) is a good example of how Adès has been evolving over the last decade – the cynicism and cheekiness of youth giving way to a new lyrical bent, most apparent in the lengthy middle movement.  This is clearly an eloquent work that wears well, although I don’t think Adès has written his masterpiece quite yet. Anthony Marwood was the soloist when Adès led the piece here in 2006, he plays on the EMI CD, and he was back Thursday in a resplendent white suit, fighting to be heard above the orchestra (I don’t recall such balance problems in 2006) but finally ripening in tone in the finale.

Exactly what Respighi’s wonderfully over-the-top “Feste Romane” had to do with Adès ' own music is not clear.  Either Adès deliberately wanted to tweak the noses of the snobs who pooh-pooh the piece, or most likely, he simply loves the music and wanted to hear it in a snazzy acoustical setting.  And he played it to the hilt – placing the opening trumpets high in the organ loft, letting the overwhelming climaxes rip while taking care with the more delicate passages, keeping the rhythms juiced and charged up.  It was an electrifying performance – and our insides will be vibrating for days afterward.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Thomas Adès and the L.A. Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall, downtown L.A., 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. $22.50-$170, (323) 850-2000, www.laphil.com.

2008 Times 2008 photo of Thomas Adès

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