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Hans OTTE (1926-2007)
Stundenbuch (Book of Hours) – forty-eight pieces for piano for two hands, in two volumes (1991-98) [57:06]
Roger Woodward (piano)
rec. Radio Bremen Concert Hall (Sendesaal), January 2006


Experience Classicsonline

Hans Otte, who was born in 1926 and died in 2007, was musical director of Radio Bremen between 1959 and 1984. He was a Hindemith pupil and a fine pianist in his own right. The Book of Hours – Stundenbuch – had a relatively long eight-year gestation and bears the laconic, but detailed subtitle “forty-eight pieces for piano for two hands, in two volumes”.

Almost all the movements are refined and refractive and only one exceeds two and three quarter minutes in length. Some indeed last no more than forty seconds. Their concentration doesn’t imply  terseness or superficiality. But they do have the status of arrested time, a profoundly involving sense of spiritual density despite their brevity.

Otte employs the idea of the medieval Book of Hours – “of monastic life – of pilgrimage – of poverty and death” – in a way that is explicitly studied, meditative and spiritual. With the amazingly clear and warm recorded sound and the excellent embracing acoustic, Roger Woodward’s Bösendorfer sings with luminous beauty.

With so much that is refined and still, it’s hard to pick moments that are more descriptive than others or that point to sources of inspiration other than those already outlined. But there are pointers; Feldman is perhaps an influence, Cage too. In the fourth piece of Book I one can feel questing hints of Bartók. The circular, drifting patterns of No.8 have a gravitational allure independent of any putative influence. The stillness of No.11 carries its own lucid charge. Elsewhere we can hear a sort of very stripped down Debussy – an influence that Otte might have assimilated anyway, but the fact that he studied with Gieseking is doubly suggestive.

Throughout, despite those brief eruptive moments that do exist, we feel a constant skein of stillness and purity; the second piece from Book III is an example of the more textually angular writing that provides contrast in the Stundenbuch. In the main though the shifting patterns, constant yet changeable as cumulus, affords the greatest sensual and musical satisfaction. Whether glittering in the treble infused writing of No.43 or controlling the stasis of No.39 Woodward proves himself, as one has come to expect, a subtle explorer of touch and refined poetry.

Celestial Harmonies’ booklet might appear typographically austere but the composer’s printed aphorisms better reveal the concentrated richness evoked in his music.

Jonathan Woolf


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