John Cage: “Works for Two Pianos” a mixed bag

John Cage’s music can be difficult to listen to. And many times, that’s the point. Cage wanted audiences to be aware of the unspoken assumptions about what music was and how it should be listened to — or viewed. There’s often a strong visual element in his work. Which, I think, is the problem I had with “Music for Two.”

It’s part of his “Music for ___” series. Cage wrote a part for every instrument, and the composition/performance becomes whatever the combination of instruments are at the time. In this case, it’s two prepared pianos. The problem for me is that there’s just not a lot going on aurally. I suspect seeing the performances interact and the visual cues provided by them moving from one part of the piano to the other would give me a much richer experience. Musically, it sounds like about five minutes of material spread over a 29-minute track.

By contrast, “Three Dances” more than justified the price of admission. This is Cage at his finest. The prepared pianos sound like sophisticated electronics or exotic percussion instruments, which make these 1945 works seem as if they could have been written yesterday. And Cage’s complex rhythmic patterns keep things hopping. This isn’t the metronomic regularity of minimalism. Rather, these dances crackle and explode unpredictably, yet all the while simmering with energy that can only sometimes be contained.

Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer perform these works with amazing precision and obvious relish, even if they couldn’t quite sell me on the “Music for Two.” That track, I’d recommend only to Cage compleatists. “Three Dances,” though, are for everyone. Those pieces (and the Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo’s performance) rock.

John Cage: Works for Two Keyboards 2
Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo
Naxos

More Recent Posts

  • Andrew Collins Trio stop by WTJU, April 29

    The Andrew Collins Trio will stop by WTJU on Sunday afternoon, April 29, around 1:30 (edt) for a live session.  Later that evening they will put on a concert at C’Ville Coffee presented by The Prism Coffeehouse and WTJU. The mercurial, 5x JUNO (Canada’s Grammy) nominee/7x Canadian Folk Music Award winning mando maestro Andrew Collins […]

  • Viktor Ullman – A Voice That Won’t Be Silenced

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

    Cappricio’s first Viktor Ullman release featured two symphonies, with the Gürzenich-Orchester and James Conlon. This time the focus is on Ullman’s piano music, ably played by Moritz Ernst. Ullman himself was an outstanding pianist. His writing for the instrument is in many ways, his most personal form of expression. Ullman’s Piano Concerto, Op. 25 was […]

  • The East Pointers head to WTJU, April 21

    The East Pointers will stop by WTJU this Saturday afternoon, at 4 (edt) for a live session ahead of their Prism Coffeehouse & WTJU Presents concert over at C’Ville Coffee.  You can catch them the following week at both Merlefest and Jazz Fest! There’s a reason, beyond their dazzling musicianship and wildly entertaining live shows, […]

  • New Jazz Adds – 4/17/2018

    New Jazz Adds – 4/17/2018 Sharel Cassity & Elektra – Evolve (Self-produced): Veteran multi-reed player Sharel Cassity (soprano, alto and tenor sax, flute) has played with numerous top level musicians over her years in NYC and has recently moved to Chicago. She composed seven of the nine songs on this set, which also has the […]

  • New Blues News – 4/17/2018

    New Blues News – 4/17/2018 Marcia Ball – Shine Bright (Alligator): Journey-woman Marcia Ball cuts loose with one of her best releases ever! She composed or co-wrote eight of the songs on the disc and she draws her covers from Ray Charles, Ernie K-Doe, Shelley King, and Jesse Winchester. She also collected a wide range […]