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Jaan RÄÄTS (b. 1932) Complete Piano Sonatas - Vol. 1
Piano sonata no. 9, op. 76 (1985, rev. 2014) [8:34]
Piano sonata no. 10, op. 114 (2000, rev. 2014) [6:08]
Piano sonata no. 1, op. 11, no. 1 (1959) [11:13]
Piano sonata no. 2, op. 11, no. 2 (1959) [11:16]
Piano sonata no. 3, op. 11, no. 3 (1959) [6:48]
Piano sonata no. 4, op. 36 Quasi Beatles (1969) [7:27]
Nicholas Horvath (piano)
rec. July, October 2016, Studio Paris-Forêt, Achère-le-Forêt, France GRAND PIANO GP765 [51:29]
Jaan Rääts is one of a clutch of composers whose names have taken Estonia onto the international stage. The other notables of Rääts' generation include Tormis, Tamberg and Pärt. Let's not forget two others: Sisask and Rosenvald.
Born in Tartu, Rääts graduated from the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957 after studies with Mart Saar and Heino Eller. His pupils at the Estonian Academy of Music included Raimo Kangro, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Mihkel Kerem. He also worked in the Estonian national arts media (1955-1974) as recording engineer, chief editor and music manager. As a composer he has been enormously productive: ten symphonies, 24 concertos and music for cinema. His piano music includes at least two piano concertos, ten piano sonatas of which we hear six on this 52-minute disc. His other piano works include 24 Preludes (1968), 24 Preludes to Estonian Folk Melodies (1977) and Estonian Preludes (24 eesti prelüüdi, 1989). There are also three series of miniatures (24 Marginalia) for piano, for electronics, and for two pianos.
The first three piano sonatas all date from 1959 and they established Rääts as a champion of succinct and accessible expression. The First is in three movements and play for just over eleven minutes. It ends impressively with a weighty and tolling serenity verging on the lugubrious and the desolate. The harmonic language is cleanly dissonant. The Second, like the Third, is in four movements. It includes a rapid-fire first movement racing along like a Nancarrow miniature on speed. There is a jazzy underpinning to this piece. The Third is from the same year and plays for just short of seven minutes. Its plodding, tender, imperious bell-swung first movement is followed by an intricately stalking second, a hesitant third and another fast-coursing Pianola- style movement which then finds time to morph into passive quietude. Don't let the Fourth's Quasi Beatles title fool you. There are some pleasing and confidingly melodious moments but it makes creative play with dissonance, both subtle and grinding. The Ninth pounds and pummels yet has a tracery of Bachian humanity about it. The Tenth is in one movement. It too picks up on writing that involves wild-eyed trilling. These trills often spin out into violence. To contrast with this there is a restful Finzian spirit abroad (1.50). The listener may be lulled but there is reason to be watchful. Rapid changes of mood, tempo and harmony are the order of the day. I can imagine these pieces appealing strongly to Joanna MacGregor. They are very much in that vein.
Nicholas Horvath seems in masterly command of Råäts' often dark yet gleaming materials whether in propulsion or in the hypnotic doldrums. As for the audio side the sound is gripping whether the music is hammering away or close to silence. Jed Distler is at the tiller for the liner essay which does an accessible and informative job just as you would expect from this expert communicator. Grand Piano are good at series so don't expect to wait very long before the next disc appears.