That Thomas Adès is a force of musical nature was demonstrated again in this passionate concert that made up the second part of his Composer Focus with the London Symphony Orchestra. In the first part, Adès paired three of his own works with Brahms' Violin Concerto to brilliant effect, while in this concert we were given one of his own works and two masterpieces of the romantic repertoire that have particular resonance for him. Listening to Adès compositions alongside these full blown symphonic pieces, it became clear how much Adès is the product of the rich European classical tradition and that he has learnt as much from this repertoire as from more contemporary models and teachers.

Christian Tetzlaff © Giorgia Bertazzi
Christian Tetzlaff
© Giorgia Bertazzi

In Adès early proto-symphonic Asyla that opened the concert, the sheer fluency of his orchestral writing, as well as the quality of thematic material and its development, makes it a landmark piece in British music. Echoes of Tippett and Maxwell Davies are in the mix, but his own voice was fully formed even at this stage of his career in 1997. The Ecstasio third movement stands out because of its rhythmic drive and is one of the few pieces in recent music that manages to translate idioms of popular music, in this case techno, convincingly in a classical context. Adès' clear conducting of the work brought out the strength and dynamism and the LSO was with him every inch of the way, appearing to relish the challenging aspect of the score.

After this colourful opening, the Sibelius Violin Concerto that followed, on the face of it, could have been a relatively restrained affair, but here the soloist Christian Tetzlaff threw caution to the wind and gave a performance that piled on the passion to a most remarkable degree. In addition, Adès drew out a forceful and attentive performance from the LSO which created a feverish atmosphere overall that was irresistible. Tetzlaff almost wrestled with his big sounding German violin in the first movement, with layer after layer of intensity being revealed, not always tidy playing, but totally committed and exciting. There was more scope for reflection at the opening of the Adagio, but even here a restlessness emerged in the playing as the movement progressed. In the finale the tempo was dangerously fast and Tetzlaff pushed his technique to the breaking point and the result was electrifying. A delicate solo Bach morsel brought us down to earth with Tetzlaff showing us his incredible pianissimo for the first time.

Adès brought the same level of passion to the much under played Symphony in D minor by César Franck. A work that has had its detractors from its first performance should now be acknowledged as one of the most original and effective symphonies of the late romantic period. Certainly in this performance it was hard not to be swept away by the sheer fecundity of invention. This was not an organ loft performance, but more in tune with the sensual world and desires that haunted and positively inspired Franck in his later works. Adès' understanding of the complex cyclical structure and the psychology of the piece was absolute, making the final bars completely satisfying. The LSO again was visibly enjoying itself, especially in the wonderful joyous themes that Franck hands them, rounding this splendid concert off with full-blooded blaze of D major.