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Cage: Works For Two Keyboards, Vol. 1 / Pestova, Meyer

Cage / Pestova / Meyer
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559726   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Cage
Performer:  Xenia PestovaPascal Meyer
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CAGE A Book of Music . Suite for Toy Piano. Music for Amplified Toy Pianos Pestova/Meyer Pn Duo NAXOS 8.559726 (54: 19)

Even though it is not even an hour long and contains only three works, this CD gives listeners a good taste of how broad John Cage’s work as a composer was. A Book of Music , a work for two prepared pianos dating from 1944, is from the same period as The Perilous Read more Night and Daughters of the Lonesome Isle , and predates Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano by only a couple of years. It was commissioned by Robert Fizdale and Arthur Gold, who of course later became famous for their performances of far less progressive music. The Book is in two parts, and each part contains several subsections. The second part contains examples of Cage at his most exciting and frenetic. It’s kind of like listening to an entire gamelan sliding down the side of a mountain at an ever increasing rate. I can envision a fairly small but rabid audience of aficionados coming together to hear this work. Incidentally, Cage wrote that A Book of Music was derived from his observation that Mozart’s music is comprised of three kinds of scales—chromatic, diatonic, and those derived from broken triads. I’m not sure that’s a profound observation, or that A Book of Music sounds like Mozart in any way whatsoever, but that doesn’t matter. Also, Naxos’s annotator Samuel Vriezen speculates on the possible linkage between A Book of Music and Cage’s “crisis of personal relationships and sexual identity.” (Cage had married in 1935, but his relationship with Merce Cunningham, at first professional and friendly, was becoming increasingly romantic during this period, and Cage and his wife finally divorced in 1945.) Speculation is all it is, however. I don’t think you can hear that in this music any more than you can hear Mozart. Still, this is a terrific work, and I am surprised it is not better known. I haven’t heard its other recordings (Josef Christof and Steffen Schleiermacher on MDG, and Joshua Pierce and Maro Ajemian on Wergo), but Naxos’s disc is significantly less expensive, and Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer do a bang-up job, with playing whose rhythmic acuity is very exciting.

The Suite for Toy Piano (1948) is more familiar. It is in five movements. The middle movement uses only nine of the instrument’s white keys, and the other four movements use even fewer. There’s something childlike but not childish about this music that I find very appealing. Xenia Pestova is more assertive than Margaret Leng Tan (New Albion), especially in the last movement. She does not sound aggressive, though.

Music for Amplified Toy Pianos dates from 1960, when Cage was well within his period of working with chance and indeterminacy. The strong (if often irregular) rhythmic profiles of the other two works have disappeared here. If the listener attempts to discern a pattern to the notes, which mostly appear one at a time at short but irregular intervals, he or she will be frustrated. Cage’s score is comprised of transparent sheets superimposed upon each other such that no two performances will ever be the same. The toy pianos are joined by other noises—a twitter, a cough, a bell, the revving of an engine, and so on—whose appearances are equally unpredictable. If you’re not into this kind of music, it probably sounds like pretentious nonsense, but if you stop judging it, it becomes hypnotically fascinating, like watching clouds, or a candle flame, or the popping of popcorn.

These performers previously recorded Stockhausen’s Mantra for Naxos, and that disc made reviewer Jeremy Machant’s Want List in 2011. Pestova and Meyer are an attractive pair of youngish people, and this new Cage CD, the first volume in Cage’s “Music for Two Keyboards,” is very desirable. (I look forward to the second, which undoubtedly will include the important Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos.) In the meantime, these lively, alert, and even virtuosic readings have much to recommend them, so if you’re curious, don’t hold back.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Toy Piano by John Cage
Performer:  Xenia Pestova (Toy Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; USA 
Music for Amplified Toy Pianos by John Cage
Performer:  Xenia Pestova (Piano), Pascal Meyer (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USA 
A Book of Music for 2 Prepared Pianos by John Cage
Performer:  Xenia Pestova (Piano), Pascal Meyer (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USA 

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