John Cage: Early Piano Music comes from Herbert Henck, an experienced hand with the work of Cage, having previously recorded Music for Piano, Music of Changes, and Sonatas and Interludes in addition to a mighty swath of first-tier twentieth-century literature for piano for various labels, most notably Wergo and ECM New Series. These are early works for standard, not prepared, piano, and some of these pieces will be as familiar to dyed-in-the-wool Cageans as "Happy Birthday." This puts the pressure on Henck to excel, and he does so spectacularly well here. The disc includes the two sets entitled Two Pieces for Piano, the piano version of The Seasons, Metamorphosis, In a Landscape, Ophelia, and the fragmentary Quest. The pieces date from 1935 to 1948, the same range covered by pianist Jeanne Kirstein in her pioneering 1967 survey of Cage's piano music for CBS Masterworks.
Though he may not be a piano superstar, Bruce Brubaker is clearly a musician to watch. On this recording of solo piano works by Philip Glass and John Cage, Brubaker somehow shifts between these two very different modernist composers to create a seamless disc of mesmerizing keyboard music. While Glass's own playing is often precise and austere, Brubaker is a different beast altogether. With him, we get a hint of Impressionism and a sense of contemplation with each note. The five parts of Metamorphosis are given shades of melancholy, along with frenzy; on the expansive "Mad Rush," Brubaker goes wild where he has to, but always returns to the piece's calming, sweet center. The piano music of John Cage is limited to just two cuts–"A Room" and "Dream"–but they, too, are hauntingly beautiful (especially the latter, longer piece).
Alberto Rosado showcases some of the most significant modern composers in this well-considered programme. Inevitably he’s up against fierce competition, not least Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recordings of both Ligeti’s Ricercata (included on the disc which received Gramophone’s Contemporary Award in 1997) and the complete Vingt Regards.
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.
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.
Steffen Schleiermacher's monumental traversal of the complete piano music of John Cage will be essential for the collection of any fan of the composer's, unless he or she has already purchased the previously released ten volumes (a total of 18 discs) that are boxed together here and reissued in recognition of the composer's 100th anniversary in 2012. The 20-hour compilation is a testimony to Cage's hugely prolific output, and certainly constitutes one of the most significant collections of keyboard music of the 20th century. There could hardly be a more sympathetic and skillful interpreter of Cage's oeuvre than German pianist/composer Steffen Schleiermacher.