CAGE Dream. The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs.1 The Unavailable Memory of. A Flower.1 Music for Marcel Duchamp. Experiences No. 2.1 A Room. Three Songs.1 Two Pieces for Piano. Five Songs.1 Prelude for Meditation. She is Asleep.1 Nowth upon nacht Read more class="SUPER12">1 • 1Natalia Pschenitschnikova (sop); Alexei Lubimov (pn, prepared pn) • ECM B0017198-02 (66:00 Text and Translation)
This release doesn’t cover new repertoire, as all of it is available in other releases, though not of course in this exact configuration. But it does present a wonderful portrait of the young Cage, containing pieces from the 1930s and ’40s (Nowth upon nacht from 1984 being the only exception). This period produced Cage’s most successful music for a broad audience. It has modal repetitive structures similar to Minimalism, the still-thrilling timbre of the prepared piano, an array of vocal techniques that have opened up territory for generations afterwards (my partner on hearing these thought immediately of Meredith Monk). The music remains fresh and timeless; above all in its quiet concentration, it feels like a previously unknown folk music.
The disc also has a recent historical backstory. Pschenitschnikova and Lubimov were students in Moscow in the 1980s, and invited Cage to visit for performances and master classes. The encounter gave them a lifelong impetus to advocate his music. Lubimov’s brief introductory reminiscence of the visit is sweet and funny. The booklet includes some of their archival photos as well.
The entire tone of the program is very quiet and intimate. The piano work Dream (in two realizations) is very distant and misty in its ambience. Pschenitschnikova has a remarkable mezzo color, extremely inviting and seductive. In the vocalise A Flower her tiny ruffles of sound are like strokes on velvet or light wind on water. Lubimov’s prepared piano has a delicate edge to its sound; in his portion of the recital the instrument sounds more timbrally homogenous than I’m used to (the exception being the gamelan-like A Room), but as these pieces are not from the Sonatas and Interludes, they may use more restrictive preparation palettes.
A couple of pieces, The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs and A Flower, have piano knocking accompanying the voice. I don’t know if Lubimov performs that task, as many sopranos do these pieces as a solo (though I suspect it’s him; also, all headnote items without a number feature him as soloist). The early Three Songs (Gertrude Stein) and Five Songs (e.e. cummings)—1933 and 1938, respectively—are a slightly different Cage, a little more ornate and dissonant, yet never over-the top, utterly original. Pschenitschnikova’s strong Russian accent is a slight distraction here, though I think Cage would only be tickled by any resultant incongruity.
The duo’s rendition of She is Asleep is a great dramatic arc that goes nowhere, but thrillingly. And I’m always happy to hear a new recording of the Two Pieces for Piano, which are “outtakes” of sorts from Cage’s ballet The Seasons, telling in their early structural use of silence (as well as almost shocking in their lyricism).
Overall a wonderful collection with a point of view.