John Cage: Works for Percussion Vol. 4 [1940-1956] is the fourth installment in the Hungarian Amadinda Percussion Group's survey of John Cage's percussion literature, which, as a whole, is part of the lifeblood of any percussion ensemble. This disc combines Cage's sparsely populated I Ching-derived score 27'10.554 for a percussionist with one of Cage's least-known efforts, Fads and Fancies in the Academy from the 1940s and the previously wholly unknown Four Dances: What so proudly we hail from 1942. 27'10.554, dating from 1956, is scored for solo percussionist, and Amadinda Percussion Group does not depart from Cage's wishes in this respect, as the work is played by leader Zoltán Rácz alone. However, he does multi-track his recording, and for good reason -- the events in 27'10.554 are few, and rather far apart, but located very precisely within the basic time perimeter specified in the title. It won't make a lot of difference to most listeners, who will conclude that there's simply not enough going on in 27'10.554 to make it worth one's while, whereas others familiar with this peculiar idiom of Cage's will find it par for the course, if not particularly outstanding.
Fads and Fancies in the Academy is one of Cage's funniest pieces and was recorded very effectively by Essential Music under John Kennedy for mode. Amadinda Percussion Group's version isn't bad, but somehow it just doesn't have the joie de vivre that Essential Music brings to the work. The premiere, Four Dances: What so proudly we hail is likewise humorous in nature, and annotator András Wilheim comments that a missing score page made the business of preparing this recording a difficult task until that errant page was finally located. Seems that there is more missing to Four Dances: What so proudly we hail than just that -- its last movement, scored mostly for piano and tom tom alone, sounds like the score is incompletely filled out to start with. As this piece was given in 1942 at least on one occasion, perhaps there is some aspect of it that Cage left up to improvisation or to "chance" (pardon the pun), as the last dance sounds a little too naked. Performance-wise, it's not too bad, and it's a treat both to hear eminent Bartók and Debussy expert Zoltán Kocsis playing Cage, not to mention the unbridled banjo-like Americana that pours forth from the piano in the first movement. Cage himself would show more restraint in terms of revisiting America's past in works like Apartment House 1776 and its nephew, 44 Harmonies, but the folksiness of this piece is revelatory.
John Cage: Works for Percussion Vol. 4 [1940-1956] is not top-drawer Cage by any means, or even second-tier Cage -- this is the stuff from the bottom of the trunk. Nevertheless, it is a decent recording, and those who cultivate expert tastes in the music of Cage might well enjoy it a great deal.