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Vancouver Recital Society presented composer and pianist Thomas Ades this afternoon in recital at the Chan Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. When I was poking around to see what was playing in NYC around seder time this year, I found a link to his recital program (27 March) at Carnegie Hall, which is the same program he performed this afternoon.

If I've heard Janacek's piano music before, I didn't know that was what I was listening to, although I know some of his symphonic music and a few of his operas. Ades played "On an Overgrown Path, Book II" except for the Vivo movement, and it had overtones of Debussy and Ravel; a few phrases reminded me of Ravel's "Sonatine". I heard the overcast quality yet not cold qualities in the music, like the pinkish heather that look cool and muted, but with brightness lurking beneath. The pieces were beautiful.

To Franz Liszt's transcription of "Isolde's Liebestod" Ades brought out the bel canto quality of the music, the diametric opposite of the bangy, histrionic performances of Liszt I'm used to. His approach was almost vocal, and I was reminded of the Liszt song "O quand je dors!" in Frederica von Stade's recording. The final chord, which seemed to last minutes, was soft but strong. If I were tempted to think his approach to pieces was soft, he brought precise rhythmic clarity to the Prokofiev "Sarcasms".

Ades opened the second half with Schubert's "Allegretto in C minor", wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, and plunged right into his own work, "Concert Paraphrase on 'Powder His Nose'" -- 'Powder His Nose' is an opera by Ades -- a joint commission by Vancouver Recital Society, San Francisco Performances, and the Barbican Centre. It was all over the place, quite a journey, and there was a lilting, Broadway musical quality to the closing "Scene Eight, 'It is Too Late'". I really liked the piece.

He closed the regular program with Beethoven's "Bagatelles, Op. 126". In these little pieces, I heard indications of the conversation in the last few piano sonatas -- those always remind me of conversations -- and one of the things I loved most about Ades' performance of them was how patiently he let the uncomfortable and unresolved linger, without any rush to resolution.

Ades performed two encores, the announcements for which I had difficulty hearing. The first was by Liszt, and I thought he said "Faust oublie", but bing shows a results for "Valse oublie". The second composer sounded like "Dauphin" to me, which means I probably didn't hear it at all, and bing can't search on such little input.

Ades strength to me was his equal commitment to color and rhythm, which sounds obvious, but I'm used to pianists who emphasize one over the other. As he played, it was as if the overarching question was "What is the composer trying to sing to us?" and the underlying question was "What are the most interesting things about this passage", and the two were inseparable.

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