Cornelius Cardew had studied with Stockhausen, was a leading pianist of the modernist canon as well as a founding member of the seminal improvising ensemble AMM, and had composed two landmark avant-garde works, Treatise and The Great Learning. So when, in line with his revolutionary/populist political beliefs, he abruptly began to write pieces based on workers' songs and leftist anthems, it came as something of a shock to his admirers (an essay of his was even called "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism"!). Many were utterly baffled at this about-face, going so far as to say, as did Adrian Jack in a 1975 interview, "The music you have written recently sounds almost deliberately bad…." Viewed in retrospect, however, one can see this evolution in line with the ideas of other politically active composers, including Frederic Rzewski and Howard Skempton, and recognize his work as two facets of the same musical soul. This recording, with Cardew at the piano, is a lovely sampler of this late period (he was to die a victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1981). The songs are often experimented with, fleshed out, pared down, or otherwise elaborated on, but never lose sight of the melodies. Some are particularly poignant (The Croppy Boy), others exuberant in their revolutionary spirit (Charge or the irresistible The East Is Red). Listeners may argue which of Cardew's paths was ultimately the more rewarding one, but anyone interested in the career of this crucially important British composer cannot afford to simply ignore the direction he chose. Recommended.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick