ARVO PAART: Für Anna Maria (Piano Music) – Joeroen van Veen, piano – (with Douw Fonda, cello; Sandra van Veen, piano on some sel.) – Brilliant Classics (double vinyl)
LUDOVICO EINAUDI: Piano Music – Joeroen van Veen, piano – Brilliant Classics (double vinyl)

by | Mar 23, 2015 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ARVO PAART: Für Anna Maria (Piano Music) – Joeroen van Veen, piano – (with Douw Fonda, cello; Sandra van Veen, piano on some sel.) – Brilliant Classics 90000 (2 audiophile vinyl discs) [3/14] (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

LUDOVICO EINAUDI: Piano Music – Joeroen van Veen, piano – Brilliant Classics 90002 (2 audiophile vinyl discs) [3/14] (Distr. by Naxos) ****: 

These are the first entries in a series of recordings on Brilliant Classics of music from some of the masters of Minimalism. I have been frankly surprised at the number of solo piano vinyl pressings coming out lately. When the compact disc was first introduced in the early ‘80s, many audiophiles felt it had some serious problems, but with piano music it sounded effective due to its perfect timing and pacing, which was not possible except on the very best turntables, most of which had subtle flutter and wow which only a few of us were bothered by. Even the falling-weights-recorded EMI piano recordings of Gieseking and others were not quite so perfect. So if you have a really budget turntable setup, better go instead for the CD versions of this music. Not only are they more appropriate sonically, but you also get more music on the double-CD packages; van Veen plays four different versions of “Für Anna Maria” there, with one clocking in at 23:07, while this vinyl version only has two just-over-a-minute tracks, opening and closing the Paart album.

Estonian composer Arvo Paart never felt he was a Minimalist. He came out in the 1960s as a dissonant voice in anger against Communist oppression in his native country. These piano works (with some added instruments in some) cover 50 years of his career, and three distinct periods. First is a Neoclassical phase, for the second he used techniques associated with the Soviet avant-garde – serialism and more atonality. In the third, after he took a break to study plainchant and ancient vocal music, he emerged with a pared-down style that combined spirtualism with minimalism and both ancient and modern techniques. One critic called his later works “the rebirth of tonality after its death.”  “Für Alina” is in his tintinnabuli style, and can evoke anything in the listener from unutterable sadness to serenity.

There are three Paart works per side of the LP set, and they seem to preserve well their special mood no matter the instrumental forces used, similar to the works of J.S. Bach. The middle work on Side A is Fratres, which has been peformed in many different versions, and Spiegel im Spiegel opens Side B, another Paart classic, which has added cello.  Sonatine No. 1 is followed by Sonatine No. 2 at the start of Side C, and the last track on the vinyl set (Side D) is a second version of short Für Anna Maria.

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The idea of Minimalism seems to be that more can be said with less, as less seems somehow necessary in our increasingly noisy and chaotic world today. Einaudi has had an important role in taking his peaceful and beautiful compositions into the mainstream of classical music and asking us to just sit back and enjoy his really unique works. His lyrical, timeless and Zen-like melodies have had a universal appeal and reached non-classical listeners all over the world. This double-vinyl package is obviously targeted toward a younger audience who are discovering the beauty and exclusivity of vinyl.

Sides B & D have three selections each, with four on Side A and two on Side C.  Another two-piano version of Hymn to a Great City (the fifth work here) can be seen and heard on YouTube along with many other various Paart videos. The titles don’t make much difference; his music remains faithful to the path of the great classics, the melodies always descending, and is ambient, calm, meditative and often introspective. He heard a lot of the Chopin Preludes when he was a child. Van Veen and his brother were the subjects of a documentary, Two Pianos, One Passion, which was nominated for an Emmy in 1996. The NY Times called his recording for Naxos of Stravinsky’s Les Noces “the best recording ever,” and his Erik Satie: Complete Music for Piano Four Hands was called by Classics Today “a must for Satie fans.” Van Veen has also recorded piano works of Glass, Reich, Feldman, and John Adams.

—John Sunier

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