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Thomas Adès, 'Paolo and Francesca — the endless whirlwind'

Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, now over 700 years old, continues to inspire greatness. From Botticelli and Rodin to Gogol and Woody Allen, artists of all stripes have been drawn to Dante's vivid depiction of his journey down into hell, guided by Virgil, and back up through purgatory to heaven.

Now, British composer Thomas Adès has responded to the Italian masterpiece with one of his own, a 90-minute ballet titled Dante. This music, in its debut recording by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with conductor Gustavo Dudamel, ranks among the most fantastical and kaleidoscopic orchestral works of our time. The music pivots from boisterous grotesquerie to delicate lyricism, all in a sweeping, Romantic-era expression.

From a scene early on in the Inferno section, "Paolo and Francesca — the endless whirlwind" finds us in Dante's second circle of hell, the one reserved for adulterers, where the illicit lovers are perpetually thrashed by an infernal hurricane. Adès' score pounds and swirls with multicolored brilliance and tips its hat to Stravinsky's Firebird.

In Dante, Adès is a connoisseur of musical sins, clearly influenced by predecessors such as Berlioz, Liszt and the Russian ballet masters, yet the cinematic opulence of the language and the rigorous construction are purely his own. With Adès as your Virgil, this vision of the afterlife is truly — and delightfully — out of this world.

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Tom Huizenga
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.