Classical Music Home

The World's Leading Classical Music Group

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?
Keyword Search
in
 
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews



 
See latest reviews of other albums...


Jed Distler
ClassicsToday.com, March 2011

The late composer/pianist Hans Otte’s extended, 12-movement solo piano work Das Buch der Klänge (The Book of Sounds) skillfully toes the thin line between stark simplicity and stock-in-trade minimalism. While the music easily can induce a soothing, New Age-induced state, active listening reaps substantial musical rewards.

Listen, for example, to how Otte weaves repeated patterns full of subtle harmonic and melodic shifts that unfold into luminous pools of resonance, as in the gorgeous, shimmering Part Ten. Part Three, on the other hand, presents a mantra-like chord-based processional that insidiously works its way up from the middle of the keyboard and down again. Part Six consists of a single, unaccompanied line demarcated by strategically placed accents and dynamic hairpins. Part Seven, by contrast, is all about melodies created by accenting specific notes within an ongoing arpeggio procession.

The composer himself recorded Das Buch der Klänge in 1983, followed in 2000 by Herbert Henck’s release on ECM. Now we have a third version, featuring Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat. Because the written text allows considerable interpretive freedom, each pianist invariably goes his own way. Van Raat for example, brings a lighter touch and more frequent shifts of accents to Part Two’s arpeggios, thereby creating busier, more melody-oriented textures than in Henck’s smoother, harmonically-oriented conception or in Otte’s gentler, more meditative reading. He creates a more lilting feel in Part Ten’s repeated chords and sparse, ringing melody bell tones than does Otte, with a slower, less relentless tempo than Henck that allows for more consistent articulation.

In the aforementioned Part Three, van Raat’s judicious and controlled balances between hands creates an austere aura that contrasts with both Otte’s dominant right hand and Henck’s minuscule expressive modifications. His ruminative tempo for Part Eleven is similar to Otte’s, and gives the music an entirely different complexion than what we hear in Henck’s brisker, more aggressive performance.

Pressed to choose among the three recordings, the Otte version still stands high for its warm, amply detailed engineering and for the composer’s sensitive, beautifully nuanced pianism. …the thoughtful musicianship and commitment he brings to Das Buch der Klänge cannot be questioned. Van Raat’s caring advocacy spills over into his superb and informative booklet notes.



Ira Byelick
American Record Guide, March 2011

All in all this is an attractive, pleasing work…Van Raat, a musicologist as well as pianist, seems to appreciate the work, and perhaps his ideas about it are spot-on. There are moments of tenderness that do justice to the piece…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Pwyll ap Sion
Gramophone, March 2011

American minimalism and the European avant-garde collide in Otte’s world

Hans Otte’s epic piano cycle Das Buch der Klänge (“The Book of Sounds”) remains one of 20th-century music’s best-guarded secrets. Completed in the early 1980s, its distinctive sound draws upon the essential ingredients of the European avant-garde and American minimalism: simplicity versus complexity, surface versus depth, repetition versus non-repetition and process versus intuition. Divided into 12 movements (or parts), the work’s large-scale, arch-like sweep charts a course through 20th-century harmony: the fragile tonal beauty of Parts I and II (minimalist Debussy) gives way to increasingly discordant explorations in Parts III, IV and V (expressionist Schoenberg meets Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX). Harmony is stripped down to a skeletal atonal line in the work’s central part, before navigating a circuitous route towards consonance in its remaining six sections, culminating in Part XII’s affirmative chorale-like peroration. As the work’s title suggests, this harmonic journey is a means to focus on sound itself, and the piano’s resonant qualities lie very much to the fore.

Despite being somewhat detached and clinical at times, Ralph van Raat’s impressively controlled performance does justice to the work’s subtle nuances. There is plenty of dynamic and colouristic contrast here. In comparison with Otte’s own 1983 recording of the work (Celestial Harmonics), Raat races through each part. Even taking into account the somewhat superfluous silences that punctuate each section, Raat’s performance clocks in at almost 10 minutes shorter than Otte’s. This is an excellent introduction to the work…



Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Recording of the Month

Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat is building up a respectable discography with the Naxos label, focusing on modern composers such as John Adams, Frederic Rzewski and Magnus Lindberg. This welcome familiarisation with the music of our time might well be embarked upon by newcomers with this new recording of Hans Otte’s Book of Sounds. This is immediately approachable music, based on tonal sonorities, and exploring textures and moods through the familiar sounds of the piano. The initial impression is like a moment of Debussy snatched from the air and extended, or a fragment of Erik Satie, compressed or filtered to create something new.

The composer wrote, “This ‘Book of Sounds’ rediscovers the listener as a partner of sound and silence [and] rediscovers the piano as an instrument of timbre and tuneful sound…” Contemporary music aficionados are more than likely to regard such essays in mellifluous sonority with a suspicion of superficiality, but Hans Otte’s music stands up far better to tests of quality and content than most examples which fall under this category. There is far more going on here than any kind of flabby new-age flim-flam. The subtle use of variation creates a restless momentum of changing harmonic relationships and melodic inner worlds, and there is always a sense of communication—not sound for sound’s sake, but sound carrying a world of emotion and landscape for the imagination.

The twelve parts of The Book of Sounds create enough contrast to maintain interest, as well as a kind of spiritual awe if you are open to that kind of suggestion. Quiet can be contrasted with drama, even some explosive bell-like accents in IV. There can even be some cinematic associations, with the sort of mystery atmosphere created in a piece like VII, or the sheer loneliness of IX. The longest part is nearly nine minutes in this recording, the shortest an almost aphoristic three. There are associations which arise through the harmonies and arching structures used, and composers such as American minimalists—perhaps Terry Riley or John Adams—and even Wagner, Messiaen and Ravel are understandably mentioned as forebears to some of these pieces. What is certain is that The Book of Sounds didn’t just appear on a whim, but was the result of years of personal exploration and technical perfecting by Hans Otte, of music which was the essence of this side of his wide-ranging creativity.

Ralph van Raat’s sensitive and technically refined performance has been captured very nicely on this CD, and while Hans Otte’s own recording may ultimately be preferable I can’t imagine anyone having any complaints about this disc at budget price. If you want something to take you to places way beyond the daily grind, or are seeking an open door into contemporary music, this is a fine place to start.




Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat is building up a respectable discography with the Naxos label, focusing on modern composers such as John Adams, Frederic Rzewski and Magnus Lindberg. This welcome familiarisation with the music of our time might well be embarked upon by newcomers with this new recording of Hans Otte’s Book of Sounds. This is immediately approachable music, based on tonal sonorities, and exploring textures and moods through the familiar sounds of the piano. The initial impression is like a moment of Debussy snatched from the air and extended, or a fragment of Erik Satie, compressed or filtered to create something new.

The composer wrote, “This ‘Book of Sounds’ rediscovers the listener as a partner of sound and silence [and] rediscovers the piano as an instrument of timbre and tuneful sound…” Contemporary music aficionados are more than likely to regard such essays in mellifluous sonority with a suspicion of superficiality, but Hans Otte’s music stands up far better to tests of quality and content than most examples which fall under this category. There is far more going on here than any kind of flabby new-age flim-flam. The subtle use of variation creates a restless momentum of changing harmonic relationships and melodic inner worlds, and there is always a sense of communication—not sound for sound’s sake, but sound carrying a world of emotion and landscape for the imagination.

The twelve parts of The Book of Sounds create enough contrast to maintain interest, as well as a kind of spiritual awe if you are open to that kind of suggestion. Quiet can be contrasted with drama, even some explosive bell-like accents in IV. There can even be some cinematic associations, with the sort of mystery atmosphere created in a piece like VII, or the sheer loneliness of IX. The longest part is nearly nine minutes in this recording, the shortest an almost aphoristic three. There are associations which arise through the harmonies and arching structures used, and composers such as American minimalists—perhaps Terry Riley or John Adams—and even Wagner, Messiaen and Ravel are understandably mentioned as forebears to some of these pieces. What is certain is that The Book of Sounds didn’t just appear on a whim, but was the result of years of personal exploration and technical perfecting by Hans Otte, of music which was the essence of this side of his wide-ranging creativity.

Ralph van Raat’s sensitive and technically refined performance has been captured very nicely on this CD, and while Hans Otte’s own recording may ultimately be preferable I can’t imagine anyone having any complaints about this disc at budget price. If you want something to take you to places way beyond the daily grind, or are seeking an open door into contemporary music, this is a fine place to start.



Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, December 2010

Hans Otte’s (1928–2007) Das Buch der Klange (The Book of Sounds) is a full–length piece (in 12 parts) for solo piano. Ralph van Raat has recorded a new version for Naxos (8.572444) and I am listening to it now as I write this.

The music is sonorous, straddling a grey area between the solo minimalist pianism of Keith Jarrett when he is in a mystically hypnotic mode and the sound of the piano music of Debussy, Ravel and Satie. That may be simplifying things too much, but those predecessors do come to mind when hearing the work.

Otte clearly revelled in the sounds of the various intervals and harmonies he brought forth on the piano. So much so that the piece strikes the hearer as a means to listen closely to the nature of those tones, set off by their sustained and repeated insistence and moments of relative silence.

Ralph van Raat gives a sensitive reading of the music, in all ways attuned to the composer’s aims. But ultimately the music seems less weighty than its presentation. In other words, to me this is a marvelous performance of what seems to me a decidedly minor work of the latter half of the last century. It is quite pleasurable to listen to the music however.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

The Book of Sounds is dedicated to all those who want to draw close to sound, so that, in the search for the sound of sound, for the secret of life, one’s own resonance is discovered.” The words of Hans Otte, a German composer little known outside of the avant garde world of experimental music. His composition tutor was Hindemith, his piano mentor, Walter Gieseking, but he followed neither in his passion for Early and Contemporary Music. Those diverse attachments were to be excited by his appointment as department head of classical music for Radio Bremen for whom he created festivals in both genres. At the modern end he was to promote many emerging talents unknown in Germany including a whole swath of American composers. His own scores he tended to push to one side despite a reasonably productive and long life ending in 2007 at the age of 81. The notes written by the disc’s soloist, Ralph van Raat, would wish to distance Otte from the Minimalist group of composers, though to my innocent ear, that is exactly where he belongs, and should rejoice in that kinship. In twelve parts lasting not far short of seventy minutes, The Book of Sounds exploits the repetition that changes by small inflexions and dynamic gradation as the music ebbs and flows. At times he joins the hypnotic group of composers, but for much of the work he requires a pianist of considerable technical ability in sections that move quickly and stretches across the keyboard. In this he finds a persuasive advocate in the Dutch pianist, the subtle shifts of emphasis and dynamic growth being perfectly incremental. If you want to sample go to track 3 that typifies the work as a whole.






Famous Composers Quick Link:
Bach | Beethoven | Chopin | Dowland | Handel | Haydn | Mozart | Glazunov | Schumann | R Strauss | Vivaldi
1:41:05 AM, 30 July 2014
All Naxos Historical, Naxos Classical Archives, Naxos Jazz, Folk and Rock Legends and Naxos Nostalgia titles are not available in the United States and some titles may not be available in Australia and Singapore because these countries have copyright laws that provide or may provide for terms of protection for sound recordings that differ from the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2014 Naxos Digital Services Ltd. All rights reserved.     Terms of Use     Privacy Policy
-208-
Classical Music Home
NOTICE: This site was unavailable for several hours on Saturday, June 25th 2011 due to some unexpected but essential maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.