Simeon Ten Holt For Orchestra

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Arguably the best-known work of Dutch composer Simeon Ten Holt (1923-2012), Canto Ostinato was originally scored for one or more keyboards. It consists of more than 100 short sections that contain five beats to the measure, most of which can repeat as many times as one desires. Voicing and registration generally are left up to the musicians. Consequently, performance durations vary widely.

When I gave Canto Ostinato’s New York premiere in the composer’s preferred four-piano configuration, we brought it in at around two and a half hours. Among Jeroen Van Veen’s legion of Canto Ostinato recordings, the longest lasts four hours plus, while Ivo Janssen’s marvelous solo piano traversal strikes a happy medium at 67 minutes.

The best single or multi-keyboard performances occur when musicians are able to lock into the rhythmic patterns with the kind of lilting precision that allows one to establish a “groove”, where the harmonic and textural shifts flow and build with ease. However, Anthony Fiumara’s orchestration only “grooves” intermittently. The inner rhythms of the five-beat phrases often bog down when the scoring is at its fullest and most diffuse. On the other hand, the quietest and most transparently scored episodes (such as in the big tune’s first appearance) convey welcome lightness and grace. Yet for all of the colorful variety that an orchestra offers, I miss the subtle interplay and hypnotic momentum one usually hears from acoustic piano readings.

In contrast to Canto Ostinato’s clear-cut key center and minimalist character, Una Musique Blanche is more ambiguous from the standpoint of tonality. The piece basically encompasses a single unison line in 16th notes brilliantly tossed back and forth among four distinct orchestral ensembles respectively made up of keyboards, percussion instruments, winds, and brass. These ensembles consistently interact with two string groups. The continuous shifts between solo and tutti passages from section to section keep you guessing and keep you interested.

By contrast Centrifuga represents “maximal minimalism”, where only four tones combine and overlap in elaborately-calculated rhythmic configurations shared among four instrumental groups. Amazingly, the work never sounds static over the course of its 49-minute duration, due to the extraordinary variety of timbre and pacing that Ten Holt achieves. Aluid may grant Canto Ostinato top billing, yet the other pieces are what counts. Buy this release for Une Musique Blanche and Centrifuga, but to fall under Canto Ostinato’s unique spell, seek out a solo or multi-piano edition.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Canto Ostinato
Reference Recording: Canto Ostinato (solo piano): Ivo Janssen (Void Classcs), Canto Ostinato (two pianos): Sandra and Jeroen Van Veen (Brilliant Classics), Canto Ostinato (four pianos): Lubimov, Melnikov, Poprugin & Zuev (Steingraeber), Canto Ostinato (multiple versions): Jeroen Van Veen & Friends (Brilliant Classics)

    Canto Ostinato (orchestrated by Anthony Fiumara); Una Musique Blanche for Orchestra; Centrifuga

    Noord Nederlands Orkest, David Porcelijn

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