Irvine Arditti

Freeman Etudes, Books 1 & 2

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In the Freeman Etudes, the maverick American composer moved away from the chance systems that he had developed in his avant-garde ensemble compositions and focussed on creating a series of etudes for solo violin. This collection of these short statements for solo violin make an exquisitely produced collection, and come within a series of recordings published by Mode that are some of the most enlightening and quality productions of John Cage's music released in the '90s. And while there is certainly an abundance of the composer's material available, few of the releases exhibit the works as pragmatically as the CDs in this series, so for the uninitiated these recordings are an opportunity to hear the music of the avant-garde legend in clear audibility and musicality. The works of Cage are often more talked about as concepts than heard as brilliantly as here -- an arresting if somewhat difficult listen, though challenge for the listener was not all the composer had in mind. These works were designed to be challenges of the capabilities of the performer -- to push the very limits of technical capabilities beyond the classical repertoire of standard technique into conceptual realms. With every idiosyncrasy and possible error written into the score with no room for variation or improvisation, thus pushing the performer to the absolute limits of their capability, these works differ greatly from the composition area that John Cage was most critically championing -- the realm of chance. The music of John Cage is often based on the extremities, the very outer limits of music are the points where the music begins. There is nothing evocative or lyrical about these recordings, and that is exactly where Cage recognized his work as being the most successfully realized -- in stasis somewhere between thought and practice, and as far beyond tradition as possible. Hence, there are few John Cage recordings that could be recommended as highly as this release and others in the Mode series.