Friday 3 October 2014

Jaan Rääts – Marginalia

Jaan Rääts Marginalia
Jaan Rääts Marginalia; Kalle Randalu; Estonia Record Productions
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Sep 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Piano music from one of Estonia's most well known composers

Jaan Rääts (1932-) is one of Estonia’s most well known composers. He wrote extensively for the movies – providing the scores for a dozen Estonian language films as well as composing eight symphonies and six string quartets. But his love for piano can be seen in the ten piano sonatas and seven piano trios plus preludes, bagatelles, toccatas, variations, and other cycles for piano.

Rääts style is often described as ‘Anti-Romantic’, refraining from dramatic over-development and instead focussing on rhythm and repetition. Within a defined framework he is not afraid to use the motifs and ideas of other styles whether Baroque, Classical or Romantic, and is equally as likely to use folk or popular music. But these are all subject to his personal treatment - with rapid contrasts in dynamic, movement and motif, providing a drama of its own.

‘Marginalia’ was written in 1979-80 and was premiered by Estonian pianist Kalle Randalu (who it is also dedicated to) in February 1980 in Tallinn. Each of the 24 short pieces represents an interpretation, or perhaps a comment on, different soundscapes throughout musical history from Baroque to 20th century popular music.

From the simplicity of no.1, where very simple treatment of arpeggios results in a distinct and effective meditation, the set expands and contracts through different and contrasting ideas. More complex and less rigid than the tintinnabuli of Arvo Pärt, this is minimalism with a heart. But it is Randalu’s interpretation that brings these little ideas to life. Each flows into the next, distinct but linked together, taking the listener on a journey.

While a student, and for several years after, Rääts worked as a sound engineer at the Estonia Radio and consequently was very interested in modern technology in music. Together with electronic music pioneer Sven Grünberg he performed and produced an extension of ‘Marginalia’ using keyboards and synthesiser. ‘Electronic Marginalia’ reuses the ideas and material from at least nine of the piano pieces, plus some new, in one long movement. Each section uses different electronic sounds and techniques to produce a kaleidoscope of sounds.

For me the electronic version, while interesting, is less effective. Perhaps this is just because the synthesiser used in now old fashioned - in the 1980’s this would have been cutting edge and innovative. But also perhaps it is due to the nature of the instruments used. The piano is able to bring something alive to the performance which the electronic set up alone, despite its cleverness, is not able to reproduce.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Jaan Rääts – Marginalia (26 Aug 2014) [01:22:24] recorded 2013 at Baden Baden Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Germany (1.-24.) and 1980 in the Estonian Composers Union (25.)
1. – 24. Marginalia for piano Op. 65 performed by Kalle Randalu
25. Electronic Marginalia Op. 65a performed by Jaan Rääts and Sven Grünberg
Estonian Record Productions 5814

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