Elena Riu - Piano Icons for the 21st Century - American Record Guide

The words "mystical" and "spiritual" tend to be misapplied when used in connection with music, in particular piano music. Too often these words signify a general dreaminess, a kind of tone-bath idiom that is easily imitated but is rather difficult to actually say anything in it. The sound is the backbone of the New Age genre. All the more astounding, then, is this recording by Elena Riu.

Most of these works are avowedly spiritual: Parts Variationen is a prayer for the healing of a friend, Tavener's Ypakoe - written for Riu - is a series of meditations on the death of Jesus, and Sculthorpe's works draw on the cultural traditions of Australian aborigines, of Koori people of south-eastern Australia, and of the Japanese.

All the works are spellbinding in Riu's readings; she brings a concert artist's technique to the business of understatement, and the result couldn't be more distant from the New Age aesthetic. Except for a few spots in Janacek's In The Mists, there is almost no flashiness here, no thundering octaves or blistering passagework, and it is because each note is so exposed that the integrity of these interpretations is so compelling.

The soundscapes are often familiar: major and minor tonalities, chant-like melodic writing, bell-like sounds. Dissonance of any kind is rare, and it is something of a shock to note how vivid the barest musical means can become in the hands of these contemporary composers. (Janacek died in 1928, but Mompou died only in 1997, and the other three are still living). Riu's mastery of the all-but-inaudible range is not only wonderful but a rare gift in this era of competition-winner; her balances in Sculthorpe's Djilile are breathtaking. It is hard to imagine a more persuasive In The Mists.

American Record Guide
03 April 2000