Cage: The Seasons; Seventy-Four; Concerto for Prepared Piano & Chamber Orchestra; Suite for Toy Piano (orig. version & orch. Harrison)

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COMPOSERS: Cage
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: The Seasons; Seventy-Four; Concerto for Prepared Piano & Chamber Orchestra; Suite for Toy Piano (orig. version & orch. Harrison)
PERFORMER: Margaret Leng Tan (prepared piano, toy piano); American Composers Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 465 140-2
ECM’s first Cage release neatly sidesteps the ‘difficult’ chance-derived works from the Fifties onwards (the 1950-51 Prepared Piano Concerto is a transitional work, combining chance procedures with more conventionally composed elements), but reveals the composer’s unique gifts as a melodist and an orchestrator. The Seasons, a 1947 ballet score, is better known in the composer’s piano reduction, but it’s a revelation in its orchestral form, its terse, jewel-like pieces glittering with strange percussion sounds that prefigure the clangs and clunks of the prepared piano. The American Composers Orchestra gives a subtle, finely nuanced reading, and is equally impressive making sense of the pointillist textures of the sparse Prepared Piano Concerto. Margaret Leng Tan has long been a respected Cage interpreter; she gives a highly dramatic reading of the Concerto while still finding time to revel in the exquisite sounds she draws from the instrument, but it’s in the tiny Suite for Toy Piano that she truly excels, strongly characterising each of its five sweetly melodic movements with a remarkable range of tones. Lou Harrison’s flamboyant orchestration of the Suite makes a surprisingly grand, if tongue-in-cheek, ending. If anybody needs confirmation of Cage’s importance as a composer rather than as a musical philosopher, just listen to the glorious music and exemplary performances on this disc. David Kettle

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