London Sinfonietta/Adès at Royal Festival Hall

In Seven Days – Piano Concerto with Moving Image

Nicolas Hodges (piano) & Tal Rosner (video artist)

Synergy Vocals

London Sinfonietta
Thomas Adès

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 18 February, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

This was the first of two concerts featuring Thomas Adès and the London Sinfonietta, showcasing works from both ends of the composer/conductor’s career.

Thomas Adès. Photograh: Nigel LuckhurstSteve Reich’s “Tehillim” (Hebrew for ‘psalms’) presented as a series of four texts – here in its chamber version with strings, winds and voices all amplified – was first performed thirty years ago. A major work, it broke new ground for Reich, as well as shining fresh light on the tradition of sacred choral music. It is typically infectious and instantly appealing, the orchestra and voices augmented by six percussion players. Thankfully, the degree of amplification was just enough to give the voices a necessary lift while maintaining a good balance with the rest of the orchestra. Adès’s conducting was solid and steady, though lacking rhythmic bite: the closing ‘hallelujah’ eschewed the necessary euphoria. The singing, absolutely crucial to its success, was immaculately handled by the experienced Synergy Vocals: the four-part canons in the outer movements were particulate vividly executed.

It is almost three years since the Adès/Rosner Video Ballet received its premiere at the Royal Festival Hall. The story of the Creation depicted in the seven continuous movements is an intriguing concept but one cannot help feeling this concerto-video-tonepoem never really knows what it is and with Ades’s music not at its most inspiring it is curiously unsatisfying. Using photographs and footage from the Southbank Centre and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles – the two places responsible for the work’s commission (although you would never recognise any part of them) – Tal Rosner’s often beautiful and abstract shapes are a fascinating diversion. There was a tendency to be drawn into the images (portrayed on six video screens behind the orchestra) and be distracted from the music: not that it is particularly memorable, though Nicolas Hodges’s contribution amply exploited the richer textures in the writing. The London Sinfonietta was immaculately prepared, although some imprecision in the horn-playing was a distraction.

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