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John CAGE (1912 – 1992)

One4 (1990) [6:56]
Four (1989) [30:00]
Twenty-Nine (1991) [29:00]
Christina Fong (violins, violas); Karen Krummel (cellos); Michael Crawford (basses); Glenn Freeman (percussion)
OGREOGRESS 643157342823 [66:23]

 

The title of Cage’s Number Pieces indicates the number of players involved, whereas superscript Arabic numerals indicate the position of that particular piece with respect to all the other pieces composed for the same number of players. Yes, I see someone raising an intrigued eyebrow since one of the pieces recorded here titled Twenty-Nine is played by four players... This gives a fairly good indication as to how this record was made, i.e. by using some present-day technology that allows multitrack recordings and things like that. I may say that the result is rather impressive as well as successful.

One4 (1990) is a short piece for solo percussion, but in no way comparable to, say, First Construction or Amores. I mean that it is a rather simpler piece using just a few instruments (it anyway sounds like this to me) and, as far as I can judge, there does not happen much in the piece.

Four (1989), for string quartet, actually consists of six short versions (although – curiously enough – they are list as twice ABC) that may be played in different order and grouping. So, the six sections may thus be played as recorded here or in a different sequence (say 4.5.6.1.2.3) to form a piece of thirty minute duration,. Shorter versions are also possible, e.g. 1.3.4.6. or 6.4.3.1 playing for twenty minutes, or 2.5 or 5.2 playing for ten minutes. I suppose that any of these versions may be tried out with this recording, i.e. if – unlike me – you are an expert in programming your CD player. But what of the music? In fact, the music here, just as in Twenty-Nine, consists mostly in a few isolated pitches often played as long-held notes. Variations result from the different dynamics whereas movement is suggested by the various entries of the instruments that often occur stepwise either downwards or upwards. The overall impression is that of slow moving sound layers of varying density, so that the music as a whole possesses some remarkable coherence, the more so that the six basic movements actually sound as variations of some basic material.

Twenty-Nine is scored for strings and percussion. As a whole, the piece is rather similar to Four, in that there is very little melodic material, if at all. In fact, the overall impression is that of a huge cluster of varying density, so that the global result is not unlike that achieved by Ligeti in, say, Atmospheres and Lontano. One might also be reminded of some pieces by Scelsi. I first thought that this was rather unpromising stuff; but, on repeated hearings, I found this piece rather impressive, in much the same way as the aforementioned pieces by Ligeti or some orchestral works by Scelsi. Although the studio work has been well done for this recording, I would certainly like to hear the piece played by the ensemble for which it was written. The present performance, however, is – to my ears – quite successful.

Now, this is one of the most curious discs that I have ever had to review so far. This has nothing to do with the content of the disc, but rather with its production. You will have noticed that it bears no reference number, and you must look hard for any indication of a label. Moreover, there are no liner notes as such, but some information is printed on the back of the disc. This means that we are told preciously little about the pieces themselves and about the way this disc was produced. Anyway, this must be the sort of release that should appeal to any Cage admirer. Others, I am afraid, will have to decide for themselves whether this is for them or not. I for one am not a particularly great fan of Cage’s music, but I readily admit that a piece such as Twenty-Nine is quite impressive, and well worth having.

Hubert Culot



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