Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hans Otte's "Book of Sounds" for Solo Piano

Hans Otte's (1928-2007) Das Buch der Klange (The Book of Sounds) is a full-length piece (in 12 parts) for solo piano. Ralph van Raat has recorded a new version for Naxos (8.572444) and I am listening to it now as I write this.

The music is sonorous, straddling a grey area between the solo minimalist pianism of Keith Jarrett when he is in a mystically hypnotic mode and the sound of the piano music of Debussy, Ravel and Satie. That may be simplifying things too much, but those predecessors do come to mind when hearing the work.

Otte clearly revelled in the sounds of the various intervals and harmonies he brought forth on the piano. So much so that the piece strikes the hearer as a means to listen closely to the nature of those tones, set off by their sustained and repeated insistence and moments of relative silence.

Ralph van Raat gives a sensitive reading of the music, in all ways attuned to the composer's aims. But ultimately the music seems less weighty than its presentation. In other words, to me this is a marvelous performance of what seems to me a decidedly minor work of the latter half of the last century. It is quite pleasurable to listen to the music however. Like a babbling brook or the pounding of the surf, it pleases rather artlessly.

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