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


Experience Classicsonline

Roger Woodward’s remarkable recording of Hans Otte’s Stundenbuch (Book of Hours) has already received a review on MusicWeb International, but is most certainly deserving of another look – I wasn’t expecting to like it that much, but was converted within minutes of proper listening.
Consisting of 48 pieces, none of which are longer than three minutes and many under one, you might be forgiven for expecting something rather fragmented, possibly even rather aphoristic and awkward. Yes, each individual piece is brief, but the musical landscapes they conjure are vast and deep. Like all powerful works of art, the Stundenbuch can be taken in many layers. There is the human scale, the short divisions in the work: each section being at once both a manageable handful of notes and an elusive riddle on which to ponder as a parcel of timeless rumination. Then there is the span of the work as a whole, or as four ‘movements’ of 12 pieces each: 12 being a massively more useful and proportionately more satisfactory number than your Napoleonic 10, as we all know. I wouldn’t want to labour the numerological point, but listen to the timeless suspended almost-resolutions of the central No.24 and you can’t help imagining Otte seeing this as a kind of axis around which the other “time-suspended galaxies” can revolve.
Hans Otte was based in Bremen as pianist, composer and radio programmer, and the Radio Bremen synergy seems to close a kind of charmed circle for this CD. Taught and supported by pianist Bronislaw von Pozniak, and subsequently by Paul Hindemith and organist Fernando Germani, Otte’s own relative reticence in promoting his own work seems to be in an inverse proportion to the energy he put into broadcasting music by his contemporaries. In this way he left his mark on music for a substantial part of the 20th century, and hearing the music on this recording I now regret missing the opportunity to hear him performing his own pieces in Europe.
This is ‘modern’ music, but should hold no fears for anyone with an open mind and good musical taste. Otte’s philosophy is embraced by his respect for tradition, and the instrument for which this music has been written: “There can be no better challenge for any composer than writing for [the piano, an instrument] which has been so closely involved in developing the new musical languages of this century.” Imagine Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige, its atmosphere preserved but its intervals expanded and, for brief moments, its dynamics and tonalities widened to explore the reaches Bartók explored in his Mikrokosmos, and you might have some idea about the kind of music you will find on this rather marvelous CD. One can sense Roger Woodward’s empathy with the creative mind behind this work, and with a warmly resonant recording on a luminous sounding Bösendorfer there is nothing to leave any piano fan wanting. For an expression of poetry in music, this is hard to beat.
Dominy Clements

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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