> John Cage - Complete Piano Music, Vol. 7 [CC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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John CAGE (1912-92)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 7: Pieces 1933-1950.

Soliloquy (1945). Ophelia (1946). The Seasons (1947). Two Pieces for Piano (1935). Jazz Study (1942). Metamorphosis (1938). Quest - Second Movement (1935). Three Easy Pieces (1933). A Room (1943). Crete and Dad (1945). Two Pieces for Piano (1946). Ad Lib. (1942). Triple-paced (First Version, 1943).
Stefan Schleiermacher (piano).
Recorded at Furstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen on March 19th-21st, 2000. [DDD]


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Here, at Volume 7 of his series, Schleiermacher presents a selection of Cage's early works, written during a period when the composer wrote mainly for percussion or prepared/non-prepared piano. They also represent Cage's output while studying with his teachers Richard Buhlig, Adolph Weiss, Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg.

The works are not presented chronologically, so if you want to hear them that way a certain amount of re-programming is required.

The earliest composition, 'Three Pieces' of 1933, consists of 'Rounds,' 'Duo' and 'Infinite Canon'. Sample the first piece, a delicate composition in two parts throughout which is amazingly beautiful in its simplicity. This delicacy returns time and time again during the recital. Schleiermacher seems as at home here as with the most cripplingly difficult Darmstadt compositions: no mean feat, therefore, to be so convincing at both ends of the scale. The disc is gripping throughout.

The disc begins with the three compositions from the mid-1940s. 'Soliloquy' (1945), is introduced by a bold bass statement which leads to a three-minute piece based on dancing rhythms: indeed, rhythm seems to take precedence over pitch. It was originally part of the cycle 'Four Walls' for voice and prepared piano. After its premiere it was not played again until 1985.

'Ophelia', subtitled 'Music for the Dance by Jean Erdmann', was choreographed in 1946. Like many of Cage's pre-1950 works, rhythm is of prime importance. Texture, tone colour, dynamics and tempo all take precedence over melodic development or harmony.

The one-act ballet, 'The Seasons', written for Lincoln Kirstein, was completed in 1947 and is closely related in its material to the 'Two Pieces' of 1946. The quiet, restrained 'Prelude I' is an appropriate prelude to the sparse and pointillist 'Winter'. Schleiermacher's variety of touch is superbly represented by the bouncy second Prelude and 'Spring' (positively Debussian in its washes of sound). The third Prelude is, perhaps surprisingly, subdued, but makes sense in the perspective of the delicate Cage-ian Summer.

'Metamorphosis' (1938) is another extended piece on the disc (15'39). Schleiermacher plays with crystal clarity: the second movement is an intriguing play of texture and register; the fifth an final movement, from its delicate opening, builds to become quite monumental in feeling.

The 'Two Pieces' of 1946 (together running for 9'26) represent Cage at his most powerful: the meaning inherent in the single line and silence are here heard in pure form, along with a brittle, Webernian beauty. In the first piece, Schleiermacher plays so quietly that he seems to merge with the silence and then to emerge inevitably out of it: a virtuoso demonstration of both technical and interpretative control.

Brittle delicacy also forms part of 'Crete and Dad' (1945). Here are two portraits of Cage's parents ('Crete' = 'Lucretia'). The almost Bachian calm of 'Crete' contrasts with the harder-edged 21 seconds of 'Dad'.

A rewarding CD, therefore. The inclusion of the second movement of 'Quest' (1935), composed for a choreography by Martha Deane, is noteworthy for its de-contextualisation of traditional chords (the first movement is an improvisation for various amplified objects and is not included here; the second movement was not published until 1977). 'Soliloquy', 'Jazz Study' and 'Crete and Dad' would all make effective encores to an adventurously-programmed piano recital.

Colin Clarke

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