For some listeners, John Cage's late pieces may seem too cerebral, fragmentary, or loosely structured to get a firm handle on them, and the variability of performances may make them seem a little difficult to follow or remember. Even so, this 2008 release from Neos offers a clear introduction to Cage's methods, and the enlightening performances by Daniel Grossman and the Orchester Jacobsplatz München are ideal for anyone coming to the music for the first time. Seven (1988) is a 20-minute chamber work for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola, and cello that gives the musicians considerable freedom in choosing musical events, albeit within precisely timed measures, yet its meditative mood is remarkably consistent and the ensemble presents its material with steady control and a diaphanous sheen. The fairly minimalist Quartets I-VIII (1976) is actually an orchestral work that constantly shifts pitches from one instrumental quartet to the next, in a process Cage determined through using the I Ching. In contrast to the free play of tonal and atonal associations and the dissonant textures of Seven, the harmonies of the quartets are much more euphonious, and the diatonic fragments of melodies that cycle around almost kaleidoscopically lend this piece a fractured neo-Classical quality. Anyone who is relaxed and open minded can appreciate this album, and both works are quite approachable in these carefully prepared performances. Neos' sound is clear and fully present, with a resonant ambience in Seven but a slightly drier acoustic in the quartets.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Quartets I-VIII, for 24, 41 or 93 instruments|