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Sir John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Piano Music: Zodiacs (1997) [1:55]; Ypakoë (1997) [13:34]; Palin (1977) [08.42]; Mandoodles (1982) [4:55]; Pratirüpa (2003) [29:42]; In Memory of Two Cats (1986) [02:11]
Ralph van Raat (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffold, 7-8 March 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570442 [60:59]
Experience Classicsonline


I really enjoyed listening to this CD of piano music by Sir John Tavener, played by the young Dutch pianist, Ralph van Raat (b. 1978). Potton Hall in Suffolk with the right degree of ambient resonance for these rather ethereal, yet minimal pieces, seems to have been perfect venue for this recording as does the choice of this Steinway piano.

The picture - “Stones” by Olga Lyubkina - on the front of the CD sets the scene appropriately with three rounded - look like granite - pebbles set one on top of the other on a bed of sand, with circular “furrows” or “ripples” around them… gravitating outwards in the style of a Japanese sand garden! An apt visual expression of the sounds of the piano in these Tavener pieces.

Everyone has heard of Tavener and his compositions, but what of Mr van Raat, with his easy-to-remember name, reminiscent of a worth Dutch burgher from school history lessons? Only a little information is available about him. I should mention his studies in Amsterdam, Paris, Helsinki, Chicago and Köln. He has won or been placed highly in several international music competitions, including first prize at the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition (1999) and second place for the Donemus Prize for Contemporary Music in the Princess Christina Competition (1995). He has made a name for himself with his contemporary music interpretations in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

The shorter pieces, Zodiacs, Mandoodles and In Memory of Two Cats are full of character and variety, enigmatic and humorous. You can just imagine the cats playing, sleeping in the sun, hunting and sitting on the composer’s lap! Zodiacs is rather quirky in character and has ripples of sound - hence the cover picture!

Mandoodles has glissandi and quotations from Chopin, and is almost jazzy in character then bell-like. Mandu must have been a beautiful cat, aristocratic and refined.

Ypakoe combines delicacy, with and without pedalling and van Raat brings out the contrasts between the delicate and more assertive passages, and the magic of the bell-like sounds. The delivery is clean, precise but imaginative and believable!

Palin is a varied work, with Tavener instructing the pianist to play “like thunder”; “like rippling rapids” and “like swaying bells at sea”. Ralph van Raat does all this and more; he also relishes the silences and combines all these into his performance, as the notes say, like a palindrome.

Pratirüpa is the longest work - nearly 30 minutes - and makes use of magical silences, glissandi and melodies evoking the sounds of carillons and temple gongs illustrating Tavener’s spiritual beliefs. It is long, but relaxed and spiritual … it grows on one slowly, with repeated hearings. The interpretation is elegant and minimalist and the slightly resonant acoustic is perfect for this work.

The CD ends with a quirky little piece: In Memory of Two Cats (1986) which must surely act as a lasting memory of the cats – darting and playing in the sunshine and shadows.

I will look forward to hearing other CDs by Ralph van Raat in this contemporary and minimalist style or others. His interpretations are clear and well-thought out and he plays with style and commitment.

Angela Boyd

see also review by Simon Thompson



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