Thomas Adès: In Seven Days (London Sinfonietta/Signum Records)

A fascinating new release from Signum Classics, and the second with the London Sinfonietta, is In Seven Days by the British composer Thomas Adès (b. 1971), alongside arrangements by Adès of two Nancarrow studies for two pianos.  In Seven Days is a work for piano and orchestra with moving image (created by Tal Rosner) and was jointly commissioned by the Southbank Centre and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and first performed in 2008. It tells the story of creation but returns to the Hebrew version and it is certainly compelling to hear the composer and creator of the visuals Rosner discuss the work in conversation on the DVD, along with performances of the works with the visuals.

Thomas Adès – Photo by Maurice Foxall

Chaos-Light-Dark lives up to its name; the incisive strings (showing the skill of the London Sinfonietta players, here conducted by Adès) seem to be playing with an idea literally on the cellular level – it is something that needs to be seen with visuals and one can witness how beautifully the music captures the inherent energy in the visual and somehow the visual seems to absorb the rhythmic flow of the music. The entry of the piano (Light) is effortlessly voiced and controlled by Nicolas Hodges: the recording balances the piano well with the ensemble and deservedly makes him prominent. Separation of the waters into sea and sky felt very much like the music was undergoing a similar process of separation as wind/brass gestures feel they are being pulled from the piano. There is real precision in the integration of the visuals (all created by Rosner from photography and film footage from the two commissioning  venues) and music not only in the motivic processes but the harmonic material, textural changes and orchestration all captured by a visual gesture.

One heard the opening of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand – not a quotation but the similarly dark orchestration – in Land – Grass – Trees. Real sense of growth in the music and images with ascending musical figures, and harmonic materials that shifted immediately just as one felt they might settle. Stars – Sun – Moon has such vibrancy with the flute/piccolo with unexpected twists in turns in the piano at a high tessitura. This is colourful orchestration showing virtuosity not only in structuring the synergy between music and visual but the colours of the orchestra and images. I hear Britten’s sea music in Creatures of the Sea and Sky yet this remains something quintessentially Adès: leaping figures capture the energy of a world awakening with creatures and musical materials from this movement appear in the next movement Creatures of the Land. This penultimate movement shows how the piano behaves very much like a narrator, observor and commentator of the act of creation and as such it comments on previously heard musical material. Nicolas Hodges displays incredible breadth in his dynamic range and ability to capture the colours inherent in Adès’ writing. Contemplation is utterly contemplative with the delicate harmonics in the  strings and slow descending  music in the piano. The ending is sensitively conceived, if it is really an ending as Adès rightly says on the DVD the end of In Seven Days is the beginning.

Two studies by Nancarrow complete this recording – Adès arranged Study No. 6 and No. 7 for two pianos and performs them with Rolf Hind. A different kind of process here as In Seven Days was conceived as a work for music and visuals from the outset while here Tal Rosner, with Sophie Clements, created moving images that connect with the musical rhetoric of Nancarrow’s studies with insight and inventiveness. The playing is precise, witty and displays real insight into the complexity and rhythmic interest of Nancarrow’s works, as much as the visuals do.

This is a insightful recording and is presented extremely well as a CD and DVD set – Nancarrow and Adès connecting well on the same recording. There is something balletic in the synergy of music and image here; very much worth hearing and seeing.

Thomas Adès, In Seven Days / Nancarrow Studies Nos. 6 & 7 (Signum Records) – Buy on Amazon

Steven Berryman is a composer and teacher working and living in London. Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Berryman