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James Harrington
American Record Guide, September 2012

We are fortunate to have some of the best piano sounds I’ve heard from Naxos here—and they are normally very good. Capturing this kind of dynamic range with clarity and fullness is a rare feat. At the price this is indispensable for anyone with a liking for this kind of music. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online



Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, September 2012

I am slowly becoming a huge Ralph van Raat fan. I’ve reviewed two other recordings by him that have been absolutely glorious. This is yet another…

Typical of Messiaen’s piano and organ works, however, the composer produces dark, congested…music in “Amen du Désir,” but he lightens up the mood and produces an excellent piece in “Amen des anges, des saints, du chant des oiseaux”…This latter piece has some very interesting running counterpoint in one place, and the final piece, “Amen de la Consommation,” is very upbeat and positive. The liner notes indicate that the expressive elements in the piece are given to the second piano while the first plays percussive, brilliant commentary. Overall I find the suite interesting…

What is great, however, is the playing of van Raat and his piano partner, Håkon Austbø. They sound as one, produce glowing colors and sensitively shaped lines, and make as strong a case for both works as one could hope. There are…34 recordings of En Blanc et noir available…but this one is less expensive and…a better buy. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review



Nalen Anthoni
Gramophone, July 2012

…Van Raat/Austbø are captured at more of a distance. This allows one to accurately perceive how Messiaen deploys his extreme range of dynamics between instruments in order to clarify melodic and decorative elements. Similarly transparent balances impart a kind of animated shimmer throughout the second movements…Van Raat and Austbo shape the first movements’s long paragraphs with a patience, sensitivity and rhythmic exactitude that slowly build to a climax. By contrast, the duo’s steady gait, careful dynamic scaling and well-balanced textures give an extra degree of dignity and gravitas to the seventh movement…At piano 2, Austbo has most of the tunes and he particularly shines in the fourth movement’s extended solo.

In short, collectors interested in this coupling of works can’t go wrong with Van Raat/Austbo… © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone



Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, June 2012

Good programming this, as Messiaen’s musical language owes much to the harmonic adventurism of his illustrious compatriot; also, both works were written in tempore belli, with all the stress and strain that imposes on artistic endeavour. Not only that, En blanc et noir and Visions de l’Amen are high rocks of the two-piano repertoire, demanding pianists of some virtuosity and stamina.

The three-part En blanc et noir certainly gets an effervescent outing here. The piano sound…is perfectly acceptable, combining detail and heft…Musically though this Debussy is thoughtfully presented and sensibly scaled, offering moments of spontaneity and wit. The more sombre second part is particularly successful, its lyrical seam carefully worked and phrases artfully shaped. As for the skittish Scherzando, it’s played with plenty of sparkle and an abiding sense of fun. Altogether a most pleasing performance…

…in Amen du désir—the Naxos pair are at their most radiant and penetrating here…van Raat and Austbø’s performance growing in stature as it progresses. The final sections—Amen du jugement and Amen de la consommation—insist on declamatory weight and a growing aura of apotheosis, both of which are present in this Naxos account…

Impressive, well-presented performances… © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Steve Holtje
eMusic, April 2012

The three-movement En blanc et noir…is from 1915, in the “Indian Summer” of Debussy’s career. Compared to the classic Paul Jacobs/Gilbert Kalish recording, this lingers less in the slow movement and has a livelier Scherzando. The seat-of-the-pants excitement of the Jacobs/Kalish concert recording is replaced here by lapidary precision and better sound and balance.

Some movements [in Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen] can pall easily, but Raat and Austbø sound freshly vivid throughout. © 2012 eMusic Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2012

Two of the great works composed for two pianos, were, by pure coincidence, written in the midst of two world wars. That Olivier Messiaen was progressively looking towards religion was heightened by having spent time amid the horrors of a German prison camp. Now restored to his place as professor at the Paris Conservatoire, he met the brilliant young student, Yvonne Loriod, and the possibility of playing pieces for two pianos sparked his interest in composing works in that genre. Visions de l’Amen dates from 1943 and came as an example of that thin line that separates the fervour of religion from eroticism. I enjoyed the disc’s excellent programme notes from Håkon Austbø setting out the structure of music, but I came to love the score years ago by listening as an innocent ear without such knowledge. The interweaving of strands, the sheer impact, and the totally unique sounds, that can only come from Messiaen, create a world of music that is by turn mesmerizing and exciting. It calls for two pianists of exceptional technical ability who can untangle the mass of notes so as to open up the texture. Here we have the young Dutch pianist, Ralph van Raat, and the long established Norwegian, Håkon Austbø, who recorded the complete Grieg piano music for Naxos. They make a fine partnership, perfectly balanced and with enviable technical mastery. En blanc et noir came almost thirty years earlier at the end of Debussy’s life at the age of fifty-six. He uses two pianos more independently and simply to enlarge the sound spectrum available, and though from a disturbed period of his life, there is the composer’s intrinsic beauty throughout. Ideal for Messiaen, the recording is less happy in Debussy’s wash of sound, but still very strongly recommended. © David’s Review Corner






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