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Tavener: Piano Music


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Audio CD, June 24, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

John Tavener' piano works are less well known than his large orchestral, vocal and choral works, yet at times seem to mark his stylistic and spiritual development on a more personal level. Tavener' first piano work, Palin, foreshadows his search for a

Review

Expect demand for this disc from Sir John Tavener's large cult of fans, some of whom may be a bit taken aback by the astringent modernism of the earliest work offered here. Later pieces incorporate the mystical and reflective elements that have made his choral and orchestral work so well-loved around the world. (And our library colleagues may wish to note that two of the pieces are dedicated to his cats.) Ralph van Raat's playing is excellent. -- Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, Rick Anderson, August 2008

The Eastern mysticism that Tavener has made his own - he has been a member of the Russian Orthodox church and imbibed its colours into his music - is present in most of these works. He does a good job of using the instrument's more limited resources to achieve similar effects to those in his larger orchestral and choral works. Yet the earlier works tread the line between consonance and dissonance in a way I find quite irritating. Ypakoë, for example, has a simple, profoundly spiritual melody which is allowed to sing out towards the middle and end of the piece. To get there, however, we have to put up with all manner of meanderings that seemed quite purposeless to me. Palin, his first piano work, features many instances when one key is sounded frequently and continuously for about 10 seconds at a time. It's meant to evoke approaching thunder, but it just sounds tedious.

The lighter works on this disc, tracks 4 and 6, are dedicated to the memory of Tavener's cats, and they see a return to traditional, triadic harmonies. These portraits are affectionate and warm: we even have glissandi to represent the pets running over the keys. Mandoodles contains jazz rhythms and reference to a Chopin Prelude, and In Memory of Two Cats is simple, bell-like and appealing. As with Ypakoë, an austerely beautiful melody is allowed space to sound. It is at moments like these that the disc is at its best and these get their fullest flowering in Pratirūpa, the longest and most recent work here.

All this suggests a sense of development in Tavener's style, from overt modernism through to a more sophisticated use of harmonies in his later works. The disc - the only one of this music? - is a welcome step in plugging this gap and any of the composer's fans who want to experience his broader range shouldn't hesitate. Performances are highly committed and the sound is up to the usual Naxos high standard. -- MusicWeb-International, Simon Thompson, August 2008


1. Zodiacs, for piano
2. Palin, for piano
3. Mandoodles, for piano
4. Pratirupa, for piano
5. In Memory of Cats, for piano

Product Details

  • Composer: Tavener
  • Audio CD (June 24, 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0018D89A6
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,268 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Cooman on July 27, 2008
Format: Audio CD
The immensely talented pianist Ralph van Raat has recorded excellent albums of piano music by John Adams and Frederic Rzewski for Naxos. Having enjoyed some pieces from John Tavener's relatively small output of solo piano music, I was thus looking forward to this disc. It is, however, a disappointment.

The finest work of Tavener's piano catalogue is the gorgoeus "Ypakoë", a mystical meditation on the Passion and Resurrection that integrates a beautiful chorale-like idea (taken from his motet "As one who hast slept") with the ecstatic sounds of trills and bells.

Van Raat's rushed interpretation of this work, however, is completely lacking in the spaciousness and fervor required for this piece. Tavener's published score lists its duration at about 21 minutes; van Raat takes only about 13.5 minutes, leaping headlong, without poetry, through the work. [It has been pointed out to me, quite correctly, that the liner notes do contain a brief sentence referring to the fact that Tavener supervised these recording sessions and made some changes to the scores. However, whether the tempo choice was Van Raat's or Tavener's, I stand by the musical assertion that it robs one of his most beautiful piano scores of its mystery and beauty.]

For an ideal performance of "Ypakoë," Elena Riu's disc "Piano Icons for the 21st Century" (Linn Records) is the one to buy. The work was written for and premiered by her.

The other major work on the disc is the recent "Pratirupa", a piece which Tavener created in versions both for piano alone and piano with string orchestra. Van Raat's performance of this work is more compelling than his rendition of "Ypakoë", but the piece is not one of Tavener's stronger compositions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Philippe Vandenbroeck VINE VOICE on February 6, 2011
Format: Audio CD
This Naxos recording of John Tavener's piano music by Ralph van Raat is an altogether rewarding disc. Contrary to an earlier reviewer it seems to me that Ralph van Raat makes a good case for a kind of music that could easily be dismissed as fluffy new age stuff. The two longer and more recent compositions are the most interesting. The shorter pieces didn't strike me as particularly memorable.

Ypakoë allegedly means "to be obedient", "to hear", "to respond" in Greek. Ypakoë is also a traditional hymn chanted in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. The piece comes across as a keyboard suite consisting of different sections (not cued on the Naxos disc). It opens with a festive preludium, majestic bells pealing, not uncommon in Tavener's music. An understated, attractive 2-part invention follows, emulating a baroque idiom. This mood is extrapolated in the next section, a very simple and sombre chorale melody. No counterpoint involved at all. A short, celebratory peroration soon makes way for the chorale again. We're halfway and the music moves in familiar Tavener territory with another subdued, hymnic theme, accompanied by rapid, ceremonial figurations in the right hand. Maybe this is the sound of the Greek 'kanokaki' where Van Raat refers in his liner notes? The chorale returns again, but only briefly, almost as a motto theme. Textures continue to thin out in a mysterious grave, pppp. A beautiful, nocturnal meditation that gives way to a rousing finale that connects back to the pealing bells of the beginning.

An earlier reviewer chastised Van Raat for playing Ypakoë much too fast. It is indeed the case that the dedicatee of the piece, the Venezuelan pianist Elena Riu recorded a much slower version, taking over 20 minutes, on a Linn Records disc. Van Raat takes just over 13 minutes.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Byzantiney on December 16, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Recently when John Tavener died, I was surprised to find that he had composed piano music. He was famous for his choral works. This recording is quite wonderful -compositions show the creative and spiritual writing of Tavener in a fascinating piano performance.
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