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Format: Audio CD
Horatio (or Horatiu) Radulescu was still alive when these recordings were made, in 2002. He died a few months ago, on 25 September 2008, aged 66. He was born in Romania but settled in France in 1969 and was very much part of the contemporary music scene there. He became a French citizen in 1974. The highly esteemed critic and musicologist Harry Halbreich considered him a genius, some of my musician friends thought he was phoney. Could be both. I've enjoyed the various works of his that have come my way, but buying this disc would not have been on top of my priorities if it hadn't come up for really cheap on the famous auction site. "L'occasion fait le larron", as they say in French.
Radulescu was an inventor of "musique spectrale" years before it became a fully-fledged movement (heralded by Gerard Grisey). Just before he left Romania, right after his graduation, he had the vision of a music which would do away with the traditions of western music, but instead would tackle and build upon the physical properties of sound, the natural harmonics and sound spectrum produced by a single sound. His approach to composition therefore paralleled that of another famous maverick (and, not surprisingly, a friend of Radulescu): the Italian Giacinto Scelsi.
For these very reasons, after a first piano Sonata dating from his early student and pre-spectral days, Radulescu remained long aloof of the piano, at least used in its traditional mode: placed on its four legs, and depressing the keys: not only because its long and overbearing tradition but also because of its intervallic tuning which seems to limit its spectral possibilities. But Radulescu did use what he dubbed the "sound icon", which was the piano laid on its side, playing on the spectrally retuned strings with fine, rosined threads woven through the web of its strings. It is only in the early 1990s, at the behest of the same pianist Ortwin Stürmer who plays them here, that he tackled the instrument again, producing in close succession Piano Sonatas 2 to 4 featured here: Second Piano Sonata "being and non-being create each other" (1991), Third - "you will endure forever" (begun in 1992 but completed only in 1999), Fourth "like a well ... older than God"" (1993). He composed two more afterwards: Fifth "settle your dust, this is the primal identity" (2003) and Sixth "return to the source of light" (2007), as well as a Piano Concerto, "The Quest" (also for Ortwin Stürmer), in 1996. Radulescu always had a knack for titles.
Each Sonata is inspired by Lao Tzu's classic writing "Tao te Ching", the fundamental text of Chinese Taoism, but the compositional processes, as described in the very informative liner notes (different in German, English and French, the latter somewhat abstruse), seem complex and intricate, harmonically and rhythmically. But never mind those: they are kitchen matters, interesting only to the music student and the musicologist. To the listener and music lover the only valid question is: how does it taste on the "ear's palate"?
Well, not as radical as it may appear.
It is music based on resonance (Ivesian almost ; Cowell and Messiaen also vaguely come to mind at times) and bell-like effects (the second movement of the Second PS is even titled "Byzantine bells", but the "Trumpets of the Eternal", first movement of PS 4, are Radulescu's version of the antiphonal trumpets resounding in Saint Marc's Basilica in Venice), on pounding and obsessive ostinatos (try the second and impressive fifth movements - the latter a tragic funeral music - of PS 3), on intimations of invented folk music (second theme of the 2nd Sonata's first movement, first heard at 00:20, or the beautiful third movement of PS 3, "Doïna") sounding like a modernized Enescu. Sometimes the music is evocative of the obsessive repetitive music of Simeon Ten Holt (track 7, fourth movement of 3). In Radulescu's use the sparse textures of single, spaced out notes or chords and his revelling in the resonances thence produced, especially from the keyboard's upper register, the Second movement of PS 4, "The sacred sound, the second", brought Scelsi, Feldman and Christian Wolff to mind.
Radulescu's piano music may not be as inventive in the sound world it elicits as, say, Crumb's or Sciarrino's, and maybe not as other Radulescu compositions (while writing this I am listening to the extraordinary "Das Andere" for solo viola (Intimate Rituals or Intimate Rituals); maybe the instrument did limit the composer's imagination to a certain extent. But nonetheless I have found it highly enjoyable and quite fascinating, especially in the 3rd Sonata. Needless to say, Stürmer's performance, made under the composer's supervision, is nothing less than authoritative. TT 55:45.