Ohana is nowhere near as daunting as Stockhausen or Boulez, and offers up considerable reward in terms of the pianistic exploration of textures and sonorities.
Composer Maurice Ohana is much more of a recognised name in France and Spain than further north or east. He is often described as French - especially by the French - but though born in French Morocco, his mother was Spanish and his father Gibraltarian. From the latter he inherited not only a fluent knowledge of English but also British citizenship! He spent his youth mainly in Spain, but soon moved to and settled in France.
His music has been recorded quite frequently, particularly by French and Spanish labels. A French website in his memory listsRead more 22 CDs, including the above, on a variety of labels, including single contributions from Naxos and Warner Classics. This 4-CD Erato boxed set gives a fine and broad introduction to this very interesting composer.
This is the third recording of Ohana's Etudes d'Interprétation. A decade ago French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet recorded all twelve - see review although Ohana's birth date given there is the erroneous one he claimed all his life. Marie-Paule Siruguet soon followed suit on a disc published by Rouen University. On the present CD Chilean pianist María Paz Santibáñez, perhaps rather unfortunately, omits the last two Etudes from the second book, "for extramusical reasons", as the notes rather coyly put it - the truth being that they call for the additional services of a percussionist.
The Etudes d'Interprétation are akin to Messiaen tempered, but not much, by Debussy. There is little in the way of melody and the harmonies, though often toothsome, are largely dissonant, sometimes in the form of cluster chords. Factor in unpredictable rhythms, plenty of big leaps in register, a non-traditional, complex sense of structure - the ninth Study is in barless notation, for example - and a general atonality, and the totality is no easy listen.
Ohana's music is not, however, anywhere near as daunting as Stockhausen or Boulez, and offers up considerable reward to the attentive listener interested in the pianistic exploration of textures and sonorities. The fifth Etude, aptly entitled 'Fifths', is even relatively easy on the ears, and perhaps the best place of ingress into the rest of the work. These are technical studies, for sure - the individual titles bear witness to that, and their virtuosic nature is unarguable. The expressive element is also very important, and the Etudes are typically characterised by formal freedom, timbral ambiguity and communicative assertiveness.
María Paz Santibáñez's name is consistently spelt "Santibañez" in the Spanish and Catalan notes, but the acute accent is added for the English and French, which has the effect of moving the spoken stress from the final syllable to the penult. An internet search of Spanish-language-only sites reveals a strong preference in favour of the accent, which would therefore signify a careless typo. In any case, Santibáñez is equal to the considerable technical demands of Ohana's music, and generally comes across as a potent advocate for this neglected late 20th century work - a pity, again, that she did not find a percussionist to help her complete Book II.
Sound quality is excellent. The CD booklet is reasonably informative, but the translation into English, even though undertaken by a native speaker, is undeniably sloppy in places, sometimes distorting the meaning of the original. For example, the Spanish and Catalan refer to Ligeti's "mecanicismo" - this should surely be translated as "mechanicism", not "mechanism". The translator also misapplies quotation marks at one point, referring to a purported Etude which is actually no more than a turn of phrase of the Catalan author - "intervals entre els més dissonants o de consonància perfecta" - which the translator, bizarrely, has even rendered into French to match the genuine Etude titles.