New Releases from Naxos in June

Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat has wowed critics since his first recording for Naxos, which featured music by John Adams. Gramophone named him “one to watch” in 2006, and Jed Distler recently reviewed his performance of Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! for the same magazine, saying “van Raat’s seasoned new music credentials, virtuoso technique, and natural affinity for Rzewski’s multi-faceted writing are evident in nearly every section… van Raat’s steady, incisive and powerfully projected reading stands with the best.”

In this new recording, van Raat tackles music by another iconic figure: John Taverner. Perhaps best known for his large orchestral, vocal, and choral works, Tavener’s piano works highlight his stylistic and spiritual development on a more personal level. His writing for the piano transforms the instrument into a sonorous world of chiming bells, highly lyrical melodic phrases, and recurrently, thundering sound clouds.

Taverner’s first piano work, Palin (1977), although clearly influenced by modernism in its use of dissonant twelve-tone series and harmonies, readily foreshadows his search for spirituality beyond the sophisticated, technical manipulation of musical material. The use of a repeated C symbolizes the “ison,” a single note that acts as the axis between silence and sound. Another axis is found in the middle of the piece, formed by the lowest C on the piano, repeatedly played for about ten seconds. From that point, all the music is sounded backwards, making the second half of the composition a mirrored version of the first half, with an additional coda. This retrograde explains the titular reference to the palindrome.

After joining the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977, Tavener’s compositional style gradually transformed as he experienced the communicative power and sublimity of the church’s traditional sacred music. In addition to writing reflective music for ensembles and choirs, he composed piano music for private purposes. The loss of his cats inspired him to write Mandoodles (1982), which depicted short scenes from the life of his cat Mandu, as well as the bell-like In Memory of Two Cats (1986).

By the time Tavener composed for the piano again more than a decade later, he had also studied the symbolism and tone systems of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Byzantine music extensively. The birth of his second daughter inspired him to write the short piano solo piece Zodiacs (1997), a mystical piece that uses tones from the ancient Greek concept of the Harmony of the Spheres. Ypakoë (1997) is a much larger work whose Greek title means “to be obedient,” “to hear,” or “to respond.” Pratirúpa (2003), Sanskrit for “reflection,” is the composer’s largest solo piano work to date, in which, he says “a series of self-reflecting harmonies, melodies and rhythms attempt to reflect the most beautiful, the Divine Presence which resides in every human being”.

Pianist and musicologist Ralph van Raat studied piano with Ton Hartsuiker and Willem Brons at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and musicology at the University of Amsterdam. He concluded both studies with distinction in 2002 and 2003. As a part of the Advanced Programme of the Conservatory of Amsterdam, and with the support of a Prince Bernhard Fellowship, van Raat also studied with Claude Helffer (Paris), Liisa Pohjola (Helsinki), Ursula Oppens at Chicago’s Northwestern University, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. van Raat has won a number of prizes, including the Second Prize and Donemus-Prize (for Contemporary Music) of the Princess Christina Competition (1995), the Stipend-Prize Darmstadt during the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (1998), First Prize of the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition (1999), the Philip Morris Arts Award (2003), the Elisabeth Everts Prize (2004), a Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship (2005), the VSCD Classical Music Prize (2005), and the Fortis MeesPierson Award from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam (2006). He appears as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States, with many of his concerts broadcast on radio and TV. He has several recordings to his credit and regularly collaborates with composers, many of whom have dedicated their piano compositions to him. Ralph van Raat has been a Steinway Artist since 2003.

Alan Hovhaness was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His extensive catalog includes 434 opuses, including 67 symphonies. Hovhaness, whose music is known for its neo-romantic style and rich melodies, believed that contemporary music was best served by “bringing back the music of the past, going all the way back to the original sources.”Fanfare for the New Atlantis is a symphonic celebration of the rebirth of the legendary island of Atlantis. The Guitar Concerto No. 2, Op. 394 was written in 1985 for the famous Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes. The music is lively and dance-like, with rapidly changing rhythmic patterns.

Symphony No. 63 ‘Loon Lake’ is full of nostalgia for the New Hampshire countryside of Hovhaness’s youth. It was commissioned by the New Hampshire Music Festival in conjunction with the Loon Preservation Society, who specifically requested the inclusion of the loon cry. All three works are world premières.

This is the first of six volumes encompassing the complete songs (183 in total) of Charles Ives. With students and alumni from Yale’s various music programs, the recording includes: 1, 2, 3′ (1921); Abide with Me (1897); Aeschylus and Sophocles (1922); Afterglow (1919); Allegro (1899); The All-Enduring (1896); Amphion (1896); Ann Street (1921); At Parting (1899); At Sea (1921); At the River (1916); August (1920); Autumn (1907); Because of You (1898); Because Thou Art (1901); Berceuse (1903); The Cage (1906); The Camp Meeting (1912); Canon I (1893); Canon II (1894); Chanson de Florian (1898); Charlie Rutlage (1920); The Children’s Hour (1912); Christmas Carol, Edie’s (1925); A Christmas Carol (1894); The Circus Band (1894); The Collection (1920); Country Celestial (1897); and Cradle Song (1919).

Featured performers and ensembles on this recording are Lielle Berman, Jennifer Casey Cabot, Patrick Carfizzi, Michael Cavalieri, Robert Gardner, Ian Howell, Sara Jakubiak, Tamara Mumford, Mary Phillips, David Pittsinger, Matthew Plenk, Kenneth Tarver, Leah Wool, the Biava String Quartet, Frederick Teardo, Eric Trudel, Laura Garritson, J.J. Penna, and Douglas Dickson.