COMPOSERS: Boulez • Carter • Schaathun
LABELS: Aurora
WORKS: Boulez: Troisième Sonata; Carter: Night Fantasies; Schaathun: Physis for amplified piano and five digital harmonisers; Adagio and Allegro
PERFORMER: Håkon Austbø (piano)


A handful of piano pieces have become classics of the forbidding, high-modernist post-war aesthetic. Two of them are on this CD: the Third Sonata by Pierre Boulez, composed in 1957 when the composer was in his mid-30s, and Elliot Carter’s Night Fantasies, written 23 years later. They are performed by the Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø. He also contributes lively programme notes which include excerpts from Boulez’s multi-coloured score (printed too small to be legible, unfortunately).

Austbø wants to enthuse us about the music, but is telling us that Carter’s piece unfolds in two rhythmic streams in a ratio of 8.75 to 10.8 the best way? It will surely turn many listeners off at the outset; which is unfortunate, as Austbø makes this admittedly tough piece seem lucid and often thrilling. One feels the different speeds clashing in an immediately physical way.

Boulez’s Third Sonata is a veritable compendium of subtle pedal effects, which Austbø reveals with fascinating clarity. But overall the performance is less successful. The fascination of the piece lies in its combination of nervous energy and relaxed grandeur, but Austbø catches only the first quality. Alongside these classics are two pieces for piano and digital electronics by Asbjorn Schaathun. These are a disappointment, highlighting the stellar quality of the other two pieces on the disc.


Ivan Hewett