During the last few years of his life, John Cage wrote many pieces in the same general vein as Five3. They are often referred to as "the number pieces." This references the titles of the pieces, which are all simply the number of the performers. Superscripts are added as necessary to distinguish the individual pieces (this is the third quintet, for example).
These works are also called "the time-bracket pieces," a reference to the notation of the pieces.
The Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra is one of Cage's most delicate works. The orchestra is treated as a group of soloists throughout, and for the most part operate with a small set of pitches and timbres, but is extended by a large array of percussion instruments played by four players. The piano, played by the superb contemporary piano interpreter Stephen Drury, weaves between the orchestral sonorities, rarely taking extended solos, as the piece becomes progressively more sparse until it tapers into silence at the end.
This is an enchanting CD, every item a sheer delight. Margaret Leng Tan worked with Cage in the last decade of his life and her earlier recordings (1/92; 7/95) show a special sympathy for the magical world of Cage's keyboard music. The second of her New Albion CDs included the piano solo version of The Seasons, and Cage was honest enough to admit to her that he had help from Virgil Thomson and Lou Harrison in making the orchestral version recorded here. The result is recognisably Cage at his most poetic, evoking each of the four seasons in lovely changing colours. There are two realisations of one of the last of what are called Cage's 'Number Pieces', Seventy-Four, written specially for the American Composers Orchestra a few months before his death in 1992. Several hearings have confirmed for me that this seamless garment of sustained sound in two overlapping parts is an immensely moving document from a unique human being at the very end of his life.
The 35th volume in Mode's Complete John Cage Edition is also the second release in Ulrich Krieger's series of interpretations for solo saxophone and saxophones with other instruments. Ensemble pieces of comparatively large dimensions were gathered on A Cage of Saxophones: Vol. 1, so this follow-up disc presents pieces for smaller combinations and solos, though with no less originality or charm.