Be prepared! There is a health warning for this review, because of an excess of superlatives. Thomas Adès, in the first concert of his mini Composer Focus with the LSO, conducted three of his own works and one by Brahms, displayed why he is one of the hottest musical properties in the UK at the moment. This is a supremely gifted musician who knows what he wants to say and has the technical ability to say it, both as composer, conductor and accompanist. Comparisons with Britten have inevitably been made: Adès is a big-hearted composer with a broad range of interests and emotions, giving his works a unique power and surefootedness.

Thomas Adès © Mausiko Suzuki
Thomas Adès
© Mausiko Suzuki
The evening kicked off with Polaris from 2010, which was commissioned for the opening of a new symphony hall in Miami and has been described as “space travel in sound.” It's a fifteen minute work which builds vertically on its glittering opening by adding blocks of sound both within the orchestra pit and in other parts of the hall. The surround sound effect in the Barbican Hall was muted, but the overall impact of the piece was very impressive. Beautifully accurate playing by the LSO created irresistible waves of sound, so fabulously orchestrated that at times it miraculously achieved both density and transparency.   

Following this ideal concert opener, the Brahms Violin Concerto, Op.77 could have seemed somewhat earthbound despite being one of the greatest of all violin concertos, but in the hands of these performers it was a stratospheric experience. Anne-Sophie Mutter, who has surely represented the pinnacle of Western European violin playing for 40 years, was so luminous and mesmerising that it was like hearing the concerto for the first time. She and Adès obviously saw eye to eye about how to approach the work and I have rarely seen so much visible enjoyment and communication between soloist, conductor and orchestra. The reward for this was a highly romantic performance of the first order and one of that will not be forgotten in a hurry. A brief encore of wonderfully buoyant and balanced solo Bach rounded off the whole experience perfectly.

After the interval Adès conducted two more of his own works, the first aptly being called Brahms. This is a 5 minute setting for baritone and full orchestra of a poem by Alfred Brendel, which was commissioned to celebrate the pianist's 70th birthday in 2001. A lugubriously humorous poem was set with wit and an element of menace implied in the words. Characterfully delivered by Samuel Dale Johnson, it gave one a small taste of the operatic genius of Adès.

The final work and the most substantial of the Adès pieces was Tevot written for the Berlin Philharmonic and first performed in 2006. A 25 minute work of symphonic stature, it hasn’t caught on as much as his early symphonic work Asyla which propelled him into the limelight in 1997. However, this is a work of real substance and emotional force, brought to life with incredible passion by the LSO behind the sure beat of Adès. Like Polaris, the work begins with delicate murmurs, this time in the strings, and gradually builds up into an extended dynamic passage which occupies half of the work's length. This time the effect is intended to be maritime rather than extra-terrestrial, with the title of the piece “Tevot” referring to Noah’s Ark and surges of sound were again realised with incredible confidence and flair. After the climax has burnt itself out, a moving Adagio passage begins, rounding off the work. A gentle rocking theme is treated almost fugally entering and overlapping at different speeds and pitches to ravishing effect. This slowly builds to a noble climax and almost ends the work with a tonal cadence, but not quite.  

This was an exceptional concert which was totally convincing both in performance and the quality of the music being presented. My concert of the year so far.