Ten Holt: Canto Ostinato (2 Piano Version) / Jeroen van Veen, Sandra van Veen
Canto Ostinato is the work that defines the legacy of the composer Simeon ten Holt, who died in 2012 at the age of 89. There are 106 sections of repeating five-beat patterns whose patterned, repetitive but gradually evolving repetition produce a mesmerizing effect on the listener – a dance-like sense of even unevenness – akin to masterpieces from the US minimalist school such as Steve Reich’s Music for 16 Musicians and Philip Glass’s Music in 12 Parts. However, the sections need not be repeated literally, and the performers can vary the dynamics, the manner of playing (legato vs. staccato, for example), and the octave in which the material is played.
Ten Holt completed Canto Ostinato in 1979 for an instrumentation of three pianos and electronic organ, but the cycle has proved itself adaptable to several different combinations of keyboard instruments, and these versions were brought together by Jeroen van Veen on a compendium produced by Brilliant Classics in 2014. ‘Canto Ostinato XL’ (9453) included this two-piano scoring as well as versions for prepared pianos, organ and marimbas, but Jeroen and Sandra van Veen have re-recorded it in 2021; the fourth version they have produced, which brings together all the varieties of arrangement and articulation developed through the course of concert performances given across the world. ‘Tonality after the death of tonality’, Ten Holt described the language of Canto Ostinato, and Jeroen van Veen compares its style to the music of Chopin: tranquil, immersive, melancholic and romantic. He worked closely with the composer over many years and can justly be regarded as the most authoritative living performer of his music.
For listeners coming to this music for the first time, you don’t know what you have been missing. I think a two-piano performance that lasts a little more or less than 120 minutes is a good place to start. (In his introduction to the score, ten Holt actually expressed a preference for four pianos, although the premiere was played by three pianos and an electronic organ.) The two van Veens recorded it together for the first time in 1996, and have recorded it on two pianos at least one other time (in 2008) before this new version from 2021. I think some of their earlier versions (alone or with other musicians) have been more dramatic (with an imaginative performer or performers, ten Holt’s works can be hair-raising, at times), but no one, least of all the composer, said that Canto Ostinato needs to be dramatic. With this new version, one is newly impressed by the music’s ability to maintain its core identity no matter how much the details change, and the details this time make the music sound a little more contemporary and a little less Romantic. Your mileage may vary. As for me, I am glad to add this version to my already not minimal ten Holt collection.
Release Date: January 07, 2022
Catalog Number: BRI96432
Label: Brilliant Classics
Number of Discs: 3
Period: 20th Century, Contemporary
Composer: Simeon ten Holt
Performer: Jeroen van Veen, Sandra van Veen
Canto Ostinato (2 Piano Version)
Composer: Simeon ten Holt
Performer: Jeroen van Veen (Piano), Sandra van Veen (Piano)