This Naxos recording of John Tavener's piano music by Ralph van Raat is an altogether rewarding disc. Contrary to an earlier reviewer it seems to me that Ralph van Raat makes a good case for a kind of music that could easily be dismissed as fluffy new age stuff. The two longer and more recent compositions are the most interesting. The shorter pieces didn't strike me as particularly memorable.
Ypakoë allegedly means "to be obedient", "to hear", "to respond" in Greek. Ypakoë is also a traditional hymn chanted in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. The piece comes across as a keyboard suite consisting of different sections (not cued on the Naxos disc). It opens with a festive preludium, majestic bells pealing, not uncommon in Tavener's music. An understated, attractive 2-part invention follows, emulating a baroque idiom. This mood is extrapolated in the next section, a very simple and sombre chorale melody. No counterpoint involved at all. A short, celebratory peroration soon makes way for the chorale again. We're halfway and the music moves in familiar Tavener territory with another subdued, hymnic theme, accompanied by rapid, ceremonial figurations in the right hand. Maybe this is the sound of the Greek 'kanokaki' where Van Raat refers in his liner notes? The chorale returns again, but only briefly, almost as a motto theme. Textures continue to thin out in a mysterious grave, pppp. A beautiful, nocturnal meditation that gives way to a rousing finale that connects back to the pealing bells of the beginning.
An earlier reviewer chastised Van Raat for playing Ypakoë much too fast. It is indeed the case that the dedicatee of the piece, the Venezuelan pianist Elena Riu recorded a much slower version, taking over 20 minutes, on a Linn Records disc. Van Raat takes just over 13 minutes. However, comparing the two recordings I must say I side with the interpretation of the Dutch pianist. Tavener may wish the music to attune us to the divine will, but in her desire for spiritual communion Riu tries to spin rather too much yarn from little wool. As a result, the music sounds dull and contrived. In Van Raat's hands the piece continues to breathe and its relative briskness lends it a beguiling freshness.
The other piece, Pratirupa, takes almost a full half hour. I suppose one has to be in the right frame of mind to stay focused on what ultimately seems to be relatively modest musical material. It's an extended meditation that revolves around three basic components: a gentle, nocturnal fantasy that forms the backbone of the piece, a lullaby that returns as a motto theme and, finally, a set of periodic eruptions of a Messiaen-like density and ferocity.