Cage, Henck

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COMPOSERS: Cage,Henck
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Sonatas; Interludes; Festeburger Fantasien
PERFORMER: Herbert Henck (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 472 828-2
Since numerous first-rate recordings of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano flood the market, the competitive stakes run higher with each new version that appears. Although Cage left painstakingly explicit instructions as to where to position the various screws, nuts, bolts, erasers and other such implements on or in-between the strings of a concert grand, the resultant sonorities differ from instrument to instrument. Suffice it to say that Cage’s ‘one-person-percussion-ensemble’ has rarely sounded as sumptuous, timbrally varied or alluring in terms of sheer colour as here. The bass notes boom with presence and resonance, the papery jingling in the higher registers literally whispers in your ear (Sonata No. 3 is a good example), while the overtones in chordal passages have a richness and definition on which audiophiles will pounce (try the processional-like climaxes in Sonata No. 12 when shopping for new loudspeakers). Herbert Henck invests this music with every ounce of his meticulous musicianship and technical finish, remaining fully attuned to Cage’s poetic impulses and rhythmic momentum.

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Festeburger Fantasien preserves Henck’s improvisations that occurred during the course of the Cage sessions and those for the pianist’s ECM Mompou release. The latter often push Mompou’s delicate syntax into minimalist areas, while the Cage-inspired improvisations run rampant. Some are truly engaging and weather repeated hearings. Others, like track 13, flit from one style to another with no direction in mind, leaving lots of spilled notes, and at least one listener’s attention, in their wake. Ultimately it’s Henck’s masterly Cage performances that count, although Boris Berman’s equally adroit (and almost as well-recorded) interpretations occupy a single, budget-priced disc. Jed Distler