Thomas Adès
Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra
Paul Stanhope
Concerto for Piccolo Flute and Orchestra [sic]
Andrew Macleod (piccolo)

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Markus Stenz [Polaris]
Benjamin Northey

Recorded 9 & 10 August 2012 [Polaris] and 6 & 7 June 2013 in Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, Australia
CD No: ABC CLASSICS
481 0862
Duration: 36 minutes
Reviewed: July 2014
Issuing a disc lasting 35 minutes and 42 seconds (90 seconds of which is applause) is a risky business. But quality before quantity, for these two interesting scores deserve wide currency.
The booklet note for Thomas Adès’s Polaris (2011) misleads by affording the commissioning of it solely to the New World Symphony, for also involved was the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and the Barbican Centre in London. Ades’s pulsating 14-minute Polaris (the North Star) opens with beguiling melodies and timbres and takes us on a journey through the heavens. A solo trumpet represents Polaris with a sustained call. Brass generally plays a big sonic part of the work, often in thrilling terms, and high frequencies (woodwinds, strings, piano, harp, chiming percussion) are also a feature as the orchestra is magnetically pulled to the note of ‘A’. Perhaps, even over a relatively short time, Adès doesn’t quite fully match such ambition – the last couple of minutes find a slight falling-away of quality – but there is much to relish.
The 20-minute Piccolo Concerto (undated in the annotation) by Paul Stanhope (born 1969) is for the most part tuneful and colourful if a little repetitive. The first movement – ‘Hymn’ – opens with some chord and colour reminders of the ‘Abschied’ from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (purely coincidental, no doubt) and is also somewhat sunrise-suggesting, the piccolo entering with a chorale-like melody, the orchestra entwining around it. Feelings of optimism spill into a lively fast section that maybe could do with a little more rhythmic variety, but there’s a nice skittish feeling here (puckish humour), before returning to the opening material, and it is certainly listener-friendly; if there is a stylistic precedent, it is Malcolm Williamson that comes to mind at times. The second-movement ‘Scherzo: Wheels within Wheels’ is also appealing, with some slap-bass and pungent scoring (not least for the tuba) and there’s a full head of steam built up for the coda, although the centrally placed cadenza does rather stagnate the whole and is also rather overlong if no doubt florid fun for the soloist.
The Stanhope was written for Andrew Macleod. He proves to be a melodious, nimble and brilliant soloist, his Melbourne colleagues also enjoying a workout. Both works are well recorded.

 

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