Friedrich Gauwerky / Mark Knoop

John Cage: Etudes Boreales; Harmonies; 10'40.3"

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This release in Wergo's ongoing Edition John Cage features cellist Friedrich Gauwerky and pianist Mark Knoop. The album has a nice symmetry; central is "10'40.3" (an excerpt from one of the duration-titled pieces, 26'1.1499) in a version for solo cello, with two versions of Etudes Boreales, one before it for percussionist using a piano, and one after it for cello and piano, and with single movements from 44 Harmonies framing the larger pieces. These performances (and the illuminating program notes) challenge the misconception that anything goes with Cage's music. His notation, particularly in Etudes Boreales (which is based on a star map), is so excruciatingly precise in its demand for microtones and impossibly complex metrical divisions that it was initially considered unplayable. A performance of these pieces may give the impression of randomness, but the scores are the result of the composer's rigorous application of chance techniques to virtually all the parameters of the music and his insistence that the score be followed with the utmost accuracy. This is music that is certainly more fun to listen to (for fans of the avant-garde) than it must be to play. The use of chance in creating the scores guarantees a lack of predictability that some listeners will find engaging but that is probably anathema to traditionalists. The movements from 44 Harmonies, which are based on hymn tunes by very early American composers, sound almost shocking in this context because they have recognizable melodies and tonal harmony, but they serve as effective aural palate cleansers situated between the austere Etudes Boreales and "10'40.3." Gauwerky and Knoop perform with exceptional discipline, and whether or not they achieve a perfect realization of the scores, their serious intent is obvious and commands respect. Wergo's sound is clean and so close that it's frequently possible to hear the performers' breathing.

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