This recording contains examples of Cornelius Cardew's music for solo piano (sumptuously performed by his friend John Tilbury, pianist with the improvising ensemble AMM) dating from the period prior to his evolution toward explicitly political music. While his later work was "traditional" in its reliance on melodic song forms and rhythms, his earlier pieces were quite abstract and modernist, though never succumbing to the sterility of much post-serialist music. In fact, it has much more in common with the conceptions of New York School composers like Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff in its concern with note placement and a certain subtly rapturous texture, especially evident in pieces such as the lovely "Unintended Piano Music." Many of Cardew's compositions have scores giving wide latitude to the performer; "Treatise," an excerpt of which is performed here, consists entirely of a (very beautiful) graphic score with no written instructions. Much credit, therefore, must be given to pianist Tilbury, whose interpretations are never less than stunning, deeply thoughtful, and incisive. Aside from being a rich and valuable document of a vital segment of the work of an important if underappreciated composer, Cornelius Cardew Piano Music: 1957-1970 is simply an exceptionally fine collection of modern piano music, wonderfully played.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick