CAGE: Three; Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine. Prague Winds; Christina Fong, violin; Susanna Borsch, recorders; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Crawford, bass; Glenn Freeman, percussion. OgreOgress DVD 634479754012. 122 minutes.
Most Sequenza21 readers have at least a passing familiarity with some of the “number pieces” of John Cage’s late period. With his fame at its height and the commissions coming in at an astonishing rate, the composer developed a new means of notation (the “time frame”) and a not-completely-unrelated titling system (the pieces are titled after the number of performers required to play them, with superscript numbers to designate works requiring an already-used number of players) to respond to the stream of commissions.
With these pieces, the master became the student. The soundworld of Cage’s number pieces bears the unmistakable stamp of Morton Feldman’s influence. They are quiet and slow, with lots of white space (silence). Unlike Feldman, Cage is not interested in patterns and their repetition””Cage’s quiet is in that way very different from Feldman’s.
This OgreOgress audio-DVD (96kHz|24bit) of several of Cage’s number pieces for winds stands as a great introduction to this important body of music and a wonderful musical experience.
Three is scored for three recorder players, playing a large number of recorders. Susanna Borsch plays all three parts in this recording. All of these pieces require a steady tone and rigorous intonation, and Ms. Borsch has both to spare, as do all of the performers on the program. Three is cast in sections: a first and last section required, and any (or none) of eight three-minute segments that may be played between them. In this recording the listener is invited to make that decision, potentially resulting a different piece every time one listens to it.
The other three pieces on the program, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight, and Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine illustrate another aspect of Cage’s musical world-view, one that is seen throughout his career””the combining of different pieces to make a new musical experience. (He also occasionally sanctioned the separate performance of parts of larger pieces, such as the orchestral parts of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra.) These larger pieces are still quiet and built of long tones, but the result is a teeming, democratic quietude that is as compelling as the more empty spaces of the smaller ensemble and solo number pieces.
The performances here are all that you could ask for. The intonation and even tones are mesmerizing, and the subtly changing chords and textures that result when players enter and exit make for a novel kind of musical narrative. The high-resolution sound puts you in the middle of the music, which seems especially apt given Cage’s aesthetic. This is a must-have DVD.
Finally, this disc is one of several that should put to rest the argument about Cage””he is a profound philosopher and an “inventor of genius”, but he was also a great composer.