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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



John CAGE (1912-1992)
Perpetual Tango (1984). In a Landscape (1948). Suite for Toy Piano (1948, version for Piano). Cheap Imitation (1969). Dream (1948). Swinging (1989). Perpetual Tango (1984).
Stefan Schleiermacher (piano)
Rec. [DDD]
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG613 0794-2 [79'34]

 

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Points of contact between Cage and Satie are not difficult to discover once the association has been suggested: Satie was the epitome of anti-Romanticism - his music is characterized by its generally 'static and developmentless' demeanour (to quote Dr Martin Erdmann's booklet notes).

In 1948 Cage organized a series of concerts which focused on Satie's music at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. During this period, Cage composed four works for piano which he himself premiered on August 20th, 1948: 'Orestes' (only surviving in fragmentary form and not included in the present collection); 'Dream', 'In a Landscape' and 'Suite for Toy Piano' (all three included on the present disc, the 'Suite' played on a grand piano, as Cage did at the first performance).

These pieces are characerized by an open, spacious simplicity. As so often with this composer, time seems to 'open out' as one listens (interestingly, this applies to both short and long pieces). There is also a quirkiness redolent of much of Satie's writing.

To take the earliest pieces first, all of the compositions from 1948 seem to nod not only in the direction of Satie, but also to Debussy: the opening of 'In a landscape' recalls the latter composer in its mistiness (and the piece also seems to include references to Impressionist Orientalism); veiled sonorities recur in 'Dream'; the 'Suite' even makes reference to 'Minstrels' from Debussy's Preludes, Book 1.

'Cheap Imitation' dates from 1969 and, at 33'04, is by far the longest piece on the disc. It is related to Satie's 'Socrate', also in three movements, for voice/orchestra or voice/piano. Cage's piece has a colourful pre-history: In 1944, Cage arranged the first movement of 'Socrate' for two pianos. When the arrangement was completed (in 1968!), performing rights were withheld by the copyright owners, so Cage changed every single pitch while maintaining rhythm and phrasing so that the choreography could remain unchanged. The third movement (18'39) is positively mesmeric.

Cage employed similar methods to Satie's 'Sports et Divertissements' in his 'Perpetual Tango', taking Satie's Tango as a starting point. Cage again took Satie's rhythm, occasionally lengthening and omitting tones. Pitches are unspecified (registers are indicated, and there are indications as to whether events should comprise single or multiple pitches). The title alludes to Satie's direction that the piece be played 'perpetuel'. 'Swinging' is based on the same method.

As one has come to expect from this series, Schleiermacher's devotion is never once in doubt. It takes the ability for the utmost concentration to successfully convey the essence of these pieces, and Schleiermacher seems the ideal interpreter. The recording and presentation are well-nigh faultless.

Colin Clarke


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