In the almost impenetrably vast recorded output of the great American composer, there are certainly some recordings and performances that stand ahead of others in terms of quality and realization. The recordings of John Cage's music allow us to often hear variations on the same compositions -- accredited to the fact that many contemporary classical ensembles approach the work of Cage as a sort of staple in understanding conceptual composition. Many interpreters fail to realize the pieces intent, often confusing them as maps for improvisation. While the composer did little to assert hierarchies in the performance of his work -- quite the opposite -- his deceptively simple and Zen like music remains some of the most vital and important music of the 20th century. The Arditti Quartet are one of the most recognized string quartets of the '80s and '90s for the interpretation of avant-garde music, and in this series for Mode, recorded at Wesleyan University in 1988, the ensemble tackle the rarely performed string quartets, a format in which Cage composed and off for over half a century. There is an incredible wealth in the String Quartets that sets them aside in the cannon of John Cage's work as they are the most lyrical, expressive, and controlled abstractions that the composer wrote. Given space, time, and devoted attention, these works are enlightening to the conceptual methods in which the composer worked. The suite is strikingly complex for the composer who was pre-occupied with chance, and some listeners may struggle with the atonal nature of these works. There is a touch of Webern in the angular patterns and a distinctly "European" avant-garde technique in the use of noise -- which may well be accredited to the Arditti Quartet who were certainly the most adept ensemble for such a challenging work. Simply, it is hard to recommend any John Cage work as highly as this series on Mode. Packaged inside a beautiful painting by John Cage with extensive informative noted from the composer and leading interpreter Irvine Arditti.
AllMusic Review by Dean McFarlane
feat: John Cage
feat: John Cage