John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most controversial composers of the 20th century. He is best known for his 1952 work 4'33" which involves not a single note of music being played. This selection of Cage's music provides a rare opportunity to get to know a range of works that were written between the years 1939-65, which were some of the composer's most productive years.
The first volume of this series (Naxos 8.550761) mixed the first two sonatas of Field's Op. 1 with the first nine Nocturnes. The Sonata Op. 1 No. 3 in C minor logically appears on this second volume, in a most successful performance. Dedicated to Clementi, the first movement shows distinct tendencies towards 'Sturm und Drang'. Neither movement is fast: the concluding Rondo (marked Allegretto scherzando) is bursting with wit and charm to balance the stress of the first. This piece alone justifies the modest outlay for this disc. The remaining tracks, the next nine Nocturnes in the series, demonstrate Frith's sensitivity. Importantly, he shows a laudable restraint with the sustaining pedal. His sweet cantabile is the result of an acute musical sensitivity, and he never overblows the scale of these miniatures.
Fifteen years before Chopin wrote his first “nocturne”, Irish pianist/composer John Field composed his Nocturne No. 1 in E-flat major, followed by at least 15 more pieces in the same style. In these short works for solo piano, Field–who was one of the most celebrated pianists in the world during the first quarter of the 19th century–put form to the idea of a contemplative, lyrical composition, specifically tailored to the piano’s expressive capabilities. These “night” pieces are primarily characterized by a dominant, gracefully flowing melody, with most of the harmonic activity in the pianist’s left hand. Although other pianists have recorded at least some of Field’s Nocturnes–most notably John O’Conor (Telarc) and Miceál O’Rourke (Chandos)–Benjamin Frith’s own uniquely inflected, poetic readings have a satisfying aura of intimacy cast in the warm colors of his well-tempered, expertly recorded piano. Although O’Conor’s playing is more lyrical, with more fluid legatos, Frith generally takes more time–and these invariably lovely pieces blossom just as fully and brilliantly.
John Adams’ vast and varied output has earned him a wide audience, uncommon among contemporary classical composers. The works on this disc span his entire career to date, and illustrate his many different styles of writing for the piano. Phrygian Gates and China Gates – “gate” here referring to a type of electronic switch – could be regarded as his first “minimal” works, but are more tonal and expressive than the music of his contemporaries such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. As a teenager Adams had played clarinet in his father’s marching band, and his Hallelujah Junction reflects his love of …….From Naxos
Nicholas Isherwood made his début as Lucifer in Stockhausen’s Donnerstag aus Licht at Covent Garden, at the age of 25, and has since collaborated closely with composers such as George Crumb, Hans Werner Henze, György Kurtág and Iannis Xenakis. His relationship with John Cage soon developed into what he in his liner notes to the disc calls ‘a love affair’. The composer Sylvano Bussotti has remarked that ‘since the passing of Cathy Berberian, Nicholas Isherwood is the singer who best understands the spirit of the music of John Cage’. On ARIA, Isherwood presents most of Cage’s music for solo voice that is not included in the composer’s Song Books, and most pieces are here recorded for the first time by a male singer. The programme covers 43 years, from A Chant with Claps from the early 1940s to Ryoanji and Sonnekus2 of the 1980s, and includes the celebrated Aria, here performed with a new multi-channel tape realization of Cage’s Fontana Mix, by the Italian composer Gianluca Verlingieri.
Joshua Pierce brings to John Cage's music an almost uninhibited classicism, but that only bolsters the compositions. He opens A Room and emphasizes its shifts with the attention of a concert pianist, rather than someone who follows Cage's directions to play the piece very quietly. Pierce, in fact, takes each of these dozen works, all of them dating to the 1940s and '50s, and draws from them the resonant Cagean oddness—phrases of weird shapes and all. But he adds a ton, too. In a Landscape sounds almost wholeheartedly minimalist in its tone colors, and She Is Asleep sounds both drummerly (on the artfully flat prepared piano) and jazzy, with Jay Clayton dropping some scat vocals in ever so subtly. This is, after all, the period when Cage was discovering the closeness between percussion and motion, on the one hand, and percussion and the modified piano, on the other hand. So these pieces blurt out chunky phrases, build with shaded drama, and rumble delicately along. It's a difficult assessment making suggestions when it comes music so notoriously open to interpretation. But Pierce has played all the Cage piano and prepared-piano stuff, creating a Wergo series that any lover of the piano repertoire should own in full. Here, anyway, is an excellent introduction, perfect for the Cagean neophyte and still inventive enough to energize owners of Roaratorio or Frances Marie Uitti's Works for Cello.