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
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.
see also review
by Simon Thompson