Hans Otte: The Book Of Sounds / Ralph Van Raat

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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...
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. On the other hand, Henck's fingerwork is often more polished (his rock-solid trills, for instance), and he appears to have the best-regulated piano of the three. My impression that van Raat is a dryer, less colorful pianist than his colleagues may have something to do with Naxos' comparatively thinner sonics. Yet 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.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 16, 2010

  • UPC: 747313244478

  • Catalog Number: 8572444

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Hans Otte

  • Performer: Ralph van Raat