CAGE Music for Two. Three Dances • Pestova/Meyer Pn Duo • NAXOS 8.559727 (52:27)
I ended my review of the first disc in this series—this is the second disc—with the words, “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.”
So here are the Read more style="font-style:italic">Three Dances, composed in 1945, and Music for Two, composed in 1984 (the first piano part) and 1987 (the second). As Samuel Vriezen recounts in his booklet note, around 1940, Cage had been asked to compose dance music to include percussion instruments, but discovered that the instruments he wanted or needed would not fit in the performance space, so he had to settle for a piano. Unhappy with the results, he later realized that by “preparing” the piano (that is to say, by inserting a variety of objects between the strings) he could create the equivalent of a small percussion ensemble, and that discovery led not only to Three Dances, as we hear them here, but also to several other works for prepared piano. Three Dances, like A Book of Music (included on Pestova/Meyer’s previous disc), was composed for the piano duo of Robert Fizdale and Arthur Gold. Composing for professional performers, Cage could compose more difficult music, and Three Dances is a finger-buster and wrist-breaker, hardly letting up over the course of 23 minutes. This fascinating music evokes the sound of a Balinese gamelan. There’s quite a lot of math in this music, in terms of its rhythmic proportions, and Cage took no small pains over this work; there is nothing accidental or chance-related about it. Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer play it with all due virtuosity, and indeed, you might feel like dancing—although you’ll probably collapse from exhaustion before the third dance reaches its conclusion. How these performers recorded this in a single take is beyond me. (Maybe they didn’t—who knows?)
In contrast, Music for Two leaves much to the discretion of the performers. One feature of the work is the presence of flexible time brackets, meaning that musical “pieces” occurring within these brackets can take place at any tempo the performer wants. Nevertheless, Cage controls, down to the second, when these pieces are to begin, and in between the pieces, “interludes” are presented, which Cage keeps on a tighter rein. Some of the piano notes are bowed, rather than being played on the keys. On a macro level, Music for Two is part of a larger series (Music for) in which Cage composed parts for 17 instruments, with the understanding that any two or more of the parts could be combined. Thus, Cage had to compose these parts much like a chess player plays chess, anticipating various possibilities but not being in complete control of them. Also, players can decide how many pieces and interludes to perform, with a maximum duration of 30 minutes. While the Three Dances are dense and incessant, Music for Two is spare, filled with long silences and solitary notes. As such, it is a less immediately striking work than Three Dances, but it eventually rewards one’s attention, and these performers have mastered both its spirit and its flesh.
Like the previous disc, this is a success on all levels, and it can be recommended to those who care about this music, or who think that they might.
A Mixed BagMay 14, 2014By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA)See All My Reviews"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 completists. "Three Dances," though, are for everyone. Those pieces (and the Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo's performance) rock."Report Abuse