John Cage’s innovative work and unorthodox ideas profoundly affected Western music during the latter half of the 20th century, and this second of two volumes (volume 1 can be heard on Naxos 8.559773) concludes Katrin Zenz’s survey of his complete works for flute. The earlier chromatic compositions include an astonishing variety of playing techniques and a bewildering rhythmic complexity, while the elements of chance in the later works result in music that is always undergoing kaleidoscopic processes at once arbitrary and intensely focussed in form and expression.
This first volume of John Cage’s complete works for flute spans a fifty year period, from the Three Pieces for Flute Duet of 1935—deft studies in chromatic writing—to the 1984 Ryoanji, which involves the use of pre-recorded flutes and percussion with resultant diverse and intricate textures. Two is the first of Cage’s important ‘number’ series and is edgily ruminative, while Music for Two, written for any combination of the 17 different instrumental ‘parts without scores’ provided by the composer, is heard in an arrangement described by Katrin Zenz as a ‘new piece for flute and piano’.
This is a marvelous release, equally perfect in conception, execution, and engineering. The program locates the intellectual origins of the American avant-garde composers Morton Feldman and John Cage not in postwar European developments, but in the music of Erik Satie, who with each decade seems a more pioneering figure. Feldman and Cage here seem not modernists, but postmodernists. Front and center at the beginning is Feldman's masterpiece Rothko Chapel (1967), a chamber-ensemble-and-chorus evocation of the Houston, Texas, chapel adorned with paintings by, and partly designed by, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko.
John Cage's austere Four Walls was composed in 1944 for Merce Cunningham's dance play of the previous year, and marks the beginning of a long and productive collaboration between the two artists. Except for the dance's structure, which was carefully planned in advance, Cage's music operated fairly independently of Cunningham's choreography, and its strictly timed sections alternated between fragmentary, song-like passages in modal harmony and aggressive bursts of expanding and contracting patterns, often in bare octaves.
Alberto Rosado showcases some of the most significant modern composers in this well-considered programme. Inevitably he’s up against fierce competition, not least Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recordings of both Ligeti’s Ricercata (included on the disc which received Gramophone’s Contemporary Award in 1997) and the complete Vingt Regards.