The LPO itself was similarly enterprising by inviting Thomas Ades to give a (free) pre-concert recital of his three piano pieces, heard here as an uninterrupted 30-minute sequence. Adess builds on tradition in a wholly individual way. I capitulated to his talent with Asyla, which opened the door for a return to earlier pieces, already recognised as precocious, to seek their substance. From 1997, Asyla impressed not only with its imaginative and precise colourings but its symphonic scope and memorable invention. Its first conductor, Simon Rattle, has already recorded it (for EMI, one of a number of Ades CDs now available) and this performance was its third in London following the composers London premiere (Proms) and Dohnanyis with the Philharmonia (earlier this RFH season).
Asyla compels attention with its disorientating, precisely notated, soundworld an upright piano (one of two) tuned a quarter-tone flat and unpitched percussion debilitate the harmony. The inventive thematic material, the core of this 25-minute piece, is developed, used cyclically, and ranges from eerie tintinnabulation to disco repetition and, in the last section, the dank, claustrophobic atmosphere found in Bluebeards Castle (a Bartokian motif in attendance); a Sibelian sense of growth informs Adess structure. In this well-prepared and committed performance, Asyla once again shined as a hypnotic work of genuine stature.
Of Adess piano works, Darknesse Visible goes in search of a John Dowland lute song and, like Brittens guitar Nocturnal, finds it at the close; a persistent trill suggests an echo from the past. Still Sorrowing retains a Dowland reference, the piano prepared with the use of Blu-Tac to alter the sound of the pianos middle register another example of Adess acute ear for sound. Traced Overheads piquant harmonies serve a more cohesive and virtuoso work - especially so in the central scherzo - in which the composer displayed his pianistic talents.
As did Andreas Haefliger albeit his playing was neat and dextrous but lacked dynamic shading and variegation. Such monochrome pianism didnt sustain attention, the ear drawn to Metzmachers crisp and buoyant conducting keen accents, lilting inflections, carefully crafted detail and thoughtfully weighted sonority. One rarely sensed Haefliger wanted to dialogue with the orchestra he had his part, the players theirs. Haefliger did find more expression and eloquence in the broadly paced slow movement; the finale was virile if short on humour.
Metzmacher removed accreted heaviness, lingering and voluptuousness that Heldenleben has acquired over the decades and led a selfless, tightly-organised account in the manner of Strauss himself. There was no lack of power in the vigorous and confident opening or in the fierce, propulsive war-scene that raged later - all part of Metzmachers consideration, which prioritised structure and reminded that Strauss was a young man (34) when he wrote it. When Metzmacher did yield, just prior to off-stage trumpets heralding battle-stations, or as the heros retirement loomed, he drew a quiet beauty of sound from the LPOs strings that caught the air, drew breath and suggested a still-centre of reflection. The love-interest was radiantly expressive, Gordan Nikolitch (guest-leading from the LSO) seductive and feisty in his portrayal of Frau Strauss.
If his one miscalculation was the throwaway return of the heros theme as conflagration subsided victory! - Metzmachers revealing of oft-overlooked detail was ample compensation. Very much in keeping with his overall approach, Metzmacher opted for Strausss original fade-away ending, which proved very convincing here. Hopefully, Metzmacher will continue to be a regular visitor to London.
- Read an interview with Ingo Metzmacher
- Read a review of Metzmachers EMI recordings of the symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann
- Who Is Afraid of 20th Century Music - click here for review
- The LPOs next RFH concert is this Saturday when Itzhak Perlman brings both bow and baton -Beethovens Two Romances and Egmont Overture, Prokofievs Classical Symphony and Brahmss Third Symphony
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201
- Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk