Cage: Concert for Piano and Orchestra; Atlas eclipticalis

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WORKS: Concert for Piano and Orchestra; Atlas eclipticalis
PERFORMER: Joseph Kubera (piano)Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble/Petr Kotik
In the patchwork history of the avant-garde since 1945, Cage’s 1958 piano Concert is a landmark, fixing the point of no return down the aleatory road at which the composer finally surrendered all control over the choice and interpretation of his music. Performers are provided with a piano solo and separate instrumental parts from which material can be chosen and combined to taste. Nothing is predetermined; while this particular performance lasts just under half an hour, much longer or shorter realisations are possible. Atlas eclipticalis, conceived two years later, pursues the same course, but derives its material from tracings on a star chart; again, though, there is no compulsion -the performers select at will.


The SEM performances use all the available material (86 instrumental parts for Atlas), apparently for the first time on disc. Both performances demonstrate what committed and intelligent interpreters can do with Cage’s blueprints, and how close their dedication can bring the result to the Zen-like inclusiveness that was Cage’s ambition. There are many ravishing moments in both works, sudden conjunctions of textures and colours that tease and delight; the arrivals matter not at all, but the journeys are certainly diverting. Andrew Clements