Musik för Två Pianon*
Ralph van Raat (piano) *with Maarten van Veen (piano)
Recorded 6 & 7 October 2007 in the Bachzaal, Amsterdam
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: October 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570542
Duration: 72 minutes
Magnus Lindberg (born 1958) was part of the Finnish group of composers who called themeslves “Korvat Auki!” (Ears open!). The group also included Kaija Saariaho, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jouni Kaipinen. Lindberg’s teachers include Grisey, Rautavaara and Heininen.
Musik för Två Pianon of 1976 is markedly pointillist, eschewing any attempts at melody. Despite there being two pianists present, textures (more accurately, disjunct “points”) are initially primarily singly stated, before the textures become a little more complex. Extended silence is just as telling, very much an expressive gesture in its own right. This is a strictly serial piece (the serial practice here extends to durations and dynamics) which demonstrates the hard-edged Lindberg of his earlier works; the world of Boulez‘s Structures is not far away.
Although dynamics are prescribed for each note of the 1977 Klavierstück, rhythms are freer. Silence again plays a crucial role in the unfolding of the ongoing argument. Ralph van Raat is capable of setting up sufficient atmosphere for the music to float through these moments of stillness.
Durations effectively implode for Tre Pianostycke of the following year. Terse gesture becomes the order of the day for the first two pieces, with the final one presenting mainly a single line (shared between the hands) with only the occasional chord as “guide”.
The mild-mannered, gently ululating opening of Play I (1979) comes as a shock after the hard modernism of much of what preceded it. Another piece scored for two pianos, the warm bath of the opening gives way to hesitant gestures (the notation here is spatial, with groups of notes presented for the players, who are free to choose which order to play the groups while still constrained slightly by sets of “rules”). As Raat attests in his booklet note, there are hints of Debussy and (particularly) Scriabin here, but after the opening, they are not perhaps as pronouned as he would have readers believe. The second movement is entitled ‘Figures and points – Mirrors – Figures and points’ which gives ample idea of the processes. The pianism in the last movement is simply stunning: it is clear we are in the presence of pianists who have immersed themselves in the world of modernism.
Twine appeared after a compositional silence of some two years and thus dates from 1988. This piece is based on symmetric harmonic sequences and utilises the middle pedal of the modern concert grand to telling effect, to sustain the most significant harmonies, against which the composer plays out his melodies. Raat gives a phenomenal performance. At all times, one is aware of his affinity for and belief in Lindberg’s music. His rendering of the tissue-delicate filigree that closes this work is worth the (minimal) price of the disc alone.
The six-movement Jubilees (2000) began as a single piece for the 75th-birthday of Pierre Boulez. There is a basic set of spectral sonorities that runs throughout. Later, Lindberg orchestrated this piece for chamber orchestra (an arrangement I for one would love to hear). As in the case of some pieces by Ravel which co-exist in piano and orchestral versions, Jubilees would seem to lend itself to this “ambidextrous” world. There is a huge amount of delicacy here, with block-like segments acting as ballast and, in particular, the fleet-fingered fifth movement providing energy and activity.
Finally, two Etudes (from respectively 2001 and 2004), which are further experiments with brief formal structures which, to my ears at least, make clear reference to Debussy’s Etudes. The second acts as a fine conclusion to the disc, virtuosic and confident. Raat’s playing is here, as elsewhere, massively assured (one should not expect less from a pupil of Claude Helffer, Ursula Oppens and Pierre-Laurent Aimard).
It is difficult not to speculate that this is what Naxos is best at – presenting contemporary music that we would possibly otherwise not hear – and in strong performances.