Elena Riu - Piano Icons for the 21st Century - Gramophone

Arvo Part's eloquently simple and extraordinarily touching Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinushka ('Variations for the Healing of Arinushka') sets the mood for the entire disc - an overall mood in which ego is subjugated to a more contemplative spiritual dimension. Peter Sculthorpe is represented by a series of piano pieces drawing inspiration from both Australian Aboriginal culture and Japanese orientalism. Djilile is a gently haunting work based on an Aboriginal melody which, translated, means 'whistling duck on a billabong'. Sculthorpe rather modestly remarks that he made the arrangement 'simply for my own pleasure, and perhaps the pleasure of others' - there's little danger of it failing in the latter, for it's almost certain to give universal pleasure to all who hear it.

'Singing Sun' (a mere 1'34" in length), again inspired by Aboriginal spirituality, possesses the same simple, haunting qualities as do the five piano pieces under the title Night Pieces. Here, Sculthorpe's inspiration comes from the Japanese idea of setsugekka (literally snow, moon flowers) to create a set of five movingly poetic Haiku-like pieces.

The central work of the disc is the world premiere recording of Sir John Tavener's Ypakoe, written especially for Elena Riu. Ypakoe consists of five movements, each relating to the words spoken by the angels to the disciples who came to Christ's tomb on the morning of the Resurrection. At 21 minutes Ypakoe can be considered a substantial addition to the repertoire - nothing unusual about that, perhaps, but what is unusual is that it is the only substantial piano piece to have appeared in Tavener's output since Palin of 1977. A few years ago I asked Tavener why he had written so little for the piano, to which he replied that he felt unsympathetic to it as an instrument for conveying the 'sacred'. I think he would almost certainly retract that statement now, as Ypakoe is an extraordinary work of great power and spirituality, and certainly a work of major importance. It is not an overtly virtuosic piece, but is like much of Tavener's output, contemplative and chant-like. However, it is by no means an easy piece for the pianist - not least in the interpretative challenge it presents. Elena Riu gives us an exceptionally fine and beautifully meditative performance.

Janacek's intensely personal and darkly hued cycle In the Mists raises the dynamic temperature a degree, but nevertheless sits perfectly in this well-balanced recital, and Mompou's introverted and delicately magical Charmes brings this thought-provoking disc to a close.

Riu's performances throughout are of the highest order, particularly in the Tavener premiere, for which she obviously feels much sympathy - I look forward to hearing more from this pianist in the future. This is a fascinating and highly rewarding disc: my recommendation - an absolute must.

03 April 2000