Andrew Macleod / Benjamin Northey / Markus Stenz / Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Adès: Polaris - Voyage for Orchestra; Stanhope: Piccolo Concerto

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The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra presents two vibrant contemporary works on this 2014 release, and the accessibility of both pieces is sure to attract listeners. Polaris, voyage for orchestra by Thomas Adès and the Piccolo Concerto by Paul Stanhope are brilliantly scored and written in a kind of neo-tonal style in which the music is highly active and freely dissonant, while having strong connections to traditional scales and modes, as well as tonal regions. There is a stable harmonic framework underpinning Adès' constantly cycling counterpoint, and Stanhope's music is even more transparently tonal, with open melodies accompanied in a rather pan-diatonic manner. But even more appealing than the fresh uses of tonality is the display of orchestral skill, which for the experienced Adès is a given and for Stanhope a promising sign of things to come. Andrew Macleod is the piccolo soloist in the concerto, and he and conductor Benjamin Northey give the rhythmically complicated work precision and clarity, so everything is easy to comprehend on a first hearing. However, because Polaris is a whirligig of sound, conductor Markus Stenz leads the orchestra with some restraint, giving the players considerable freedom of movement of their own and, as the contrapuntal lines increase, letting the textures breathe. Fans of approachable modern music will find much to like here.

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