Simeon ten Holt's Canto Ostinato (1976-1979), probably the seminal work of European minimalism, can be performed by any number of pianists and was created to have performances of variable lengths. It is constructed in 106 discrete cells that may be repeated any number of times. The lengths of the cells are wildly variable; numbers 88 and 91 together make up almost half of the piece. The longest recorded performance, also available on the Dutch Et'cetera label, uses four pianists and lasts well over two and a half hours. There is a somewhat shorter four-piano version on Brilliant and an arrangement for solo harp on Et'cetera on a single CD. This version, played by two pianists, Polo de Haas and Kees Wieringa, lasts 75 minutes. (With 92 tracks, it may hold the record for the most tracks packed onto a single disc.) A listener's decision about which version is preferable is likely to depend on his or her feelings about minimalism. For the full minimalist experience, in which changes take place at a relatively glacial pace, giving the listener plenty of time to contemplate each section before it morphs into another, the longer versions would probably be most satisfying. Listeners who like to be able to keep track of linear development, with things moving on at a fast clip, would probably prefer one of the single CD versions. This release is of the second type. The size of the ensemble is a factor, too; the four pianos can create a broader sonic spectrum, with more opportunities for dynamic variety than two pianos, which can sound relentlessly monochromatic at this pace for this length of time. The alternate short version, the harp arrangement, has a timbral delicacy that avoids the pounding quality of the two pianos and has a textural transparency that allows the inner voices to be heard better than in any of the piano versions. This is certainly a committed and inventive performance of Canto Ostinato that should interest listeners who already love the piece and love hearing the fresh insights that different performers bring to it, but for new listeners, a better place to start would be with a long, four-piano version on Et'cetera, or the (relatively) brief version for harp.
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