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Radulescu: Lao Tsu Sonatas

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1. 'Lao Tsu' Piano Sonatas
2. 'Being And Non-Being Create Each Other'
3. 2nd Piano Sonata Op. 82 'You Will Endure Forever'
4. 3rd Piano Sonata Op. 86
5. 'Like A Well...Older Than God' 4th Piano Sonata Op. 92

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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Rather different than the average Radulescu, but beautiful music 18 May 2009
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
In the early 1990s Horatiu Radulescu, long known as a composer of mystically titled works treating sound as flowing energy, reconciled himself to the piano. For two decades, Radulescu had only used the piano by standing it on its side and playing its strings directly with bows. Now after a request by Orwin Stuermer he wrote these three piano sonatas--the Second, Third, and Fourth, together the "Lao Tzu Sonatas"--which use the instrument in a rather more traditional fashion, and then ultimately a piano concerto (available on another CPO disc)

Radulescu's return to the piano came when he felt that he could write spectrally interesting music with the unalterable equal temperment of the instrument. There's a great deal of theory involved, assuming a knowledge of acoustics, which I won't duplicate here. The basic music material of the sonatas are quotations from the Romanian Christmas carols which Bartok collected. Often based on just two or three tones, these are some of the most ancient pieces of music in Europe and go back thousands of years. Radulescu has commented much on the "proto-spectral" nature of Balkan folk music and Byzantine chant, and he has seamlessly integrated those genres into these piano sonatas and his piano concerto. Each of the sonatas basically explores the same concerns, though each has its individual properties, whether it be the repeated notes and bass emphasis of the Third, or the prominent use of silence in the Fourth.

Without the ability to produce anything but tones and semitones, this simple piano music can never be as eerily beautiful as Radulescu's customary output. The basis of the music in Radulescu's spectral concerns is likely to be consciously evident only to those who, like the composer, have dedicated a great deal of time to the study of spectra. Nonetheless, this is in the main beautiful music. I suppose the most immediate comparison would be with the resonance and bell-like effects of Messiaen, but without that composer's birdsong and stock gestures and possessing more supple rhythms. The Romanian Christmas carols are very rich and seem an inexhaustible well (indeed, one of Radulescu's movements is titled "like a well, older than God").

If you don't yet know the music of Horatiu Radulescu, I'd recommend starting with the pieces available from the Avant-Garde Project. Uncomprimising but eerie and highly original, they are representative of Radulescu's music. The piano sonatas and concerto are a diversion which may give a false impression of his output, but they are an interesting diversion. It's a pity that this disc is now out of print and difficult to come by, and that no label has yet recorded his two later piano sonatas.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Maybe not as inventive as other Radulescu works, but fascinating and enjoyable nonetheless 19 Mar. 2009
By Discophage - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
somewhat interesting 18 July 2007
By scarecrow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Lao tzu lived circa 600 BC, believed in simplicity as the only means for transformation of truth of/in life, of 'living' a life,finding-searching for pathways to existence and representations of it. Although he refused to write, he thought "Words" fix into dogma reality and the many times complex processes of life, and how it is lived and helping others.

Radulescu himself has been interested in the transformative elements,the porcesses in the practice of music, always locating new musical languages that do not moribund with time(so it seems ) or develop into a creative impasse. He has an intense interest in timbre,primordial, earthy-like sounds in and for-itself, what timbre does to the mind, makes it think, or quiets the imagination, quiets, tames the passions. Here these three sonatas have predictable gestures, very accessible materials here developed into philosophic iconic movements.He likes to allow the piano's resonances to be alone with itself, clanging at times, but very classical in form and structural proportions. In the jacket notes there is reference to "spectral music", and What this music has to do with this thinking is beyond me. "Spectral" music developed in Paris by composers as Murail, the late Grisey, Harvey,and Dufourt and takes intense interest in the "harmonic" gradations of how we hear, how we experience overtones within spectrums of tones given. It is a way, a new context to place the tones and rhythms you write and develop.
Hardcore creators who have embraced the East as a source is composer Jean Claude Eloy, who really try a synthesis abstractedly of East and West conceptual paradigms.How we hear has some reference to the natural universe of timbre and sound. Naturally the results have been mixed to dull and dead-end-ish,although the concept itself has seemingly endless possibilities. With "spectral" music we do not think within the predictable context of counterpoint,of 12 Tones of shaping time into phrases,modules or narrative contexts. In that respect it was a breath of fresh air. Although many of these composers all depend on strong programmatic narratives to guide their overly-determined spectral theories they bring to their music.Nor do we have functional anything, so it gives a new perspective to music making,and each work has its own rules and regulations for its own discourse and development;"spectral" codifies only to the extent that it is developing the natural universe of sound and its physical properties,something Lao tzu believed, that understanding nature was the first priority of man and his or her life. . . So with Radulescu if you have this thinking as part of your pallette of concepts you bring to your music, I can see where it might render different contexts to the music you write. But the listening experience here is quite different, with quasi-Asian like rhythms,those we have heard before and gestures we have experienced before. I listen to all three sonatas as one work. . . it seemed more interesting and engaging that way. The playing is wonderful, elegant.
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