Joanna MacGregor: Piano Works by John Cage

Cage’s masterpiece for prepared piano – Sonatas and Interludes – paired with earlier pieces: the dance-inflected Bacchanale, and the Irish myth of The Perilous Night.

SoundCircus, Joanna MacGregor’s own independent record label, was launched in December 1998 at Perilous Night, a memorable event at London’s South Bank Centre. A packed audience of young people enjoyed their first experience of John Cage’s most famous innovation, the prepared piano. Cage (1912-92) straddled the century as an inspirational liberator from preconceptions about music and its performance. Meeting him in his old age, I was struck by his gentle friendliness and obvious interest in listening to new music of every kind. His impact upon world music has been arguably greater than that of any other American composer. His invention of the prepared piano captivated Joanna MacGregor, its elaborate transformations sounding to her like “a lush garden of wind chimes, babbling brooks, 88 gamelan players and African xylophones”.

Sonatas and Interludes are sixteen delectable pieces in Scarlatti’s binary form with repeats, mainly tranquil and with strong ancient Indian references. Bacchanale and in particular the six pieces of The Perilous Night represent darker music written during a time of emotional turmoil. The latter takes much further the piano preparation, with objects like pieces of rubber, plastic and metallic bolts inserted amongst the strings to precise instructions.

The whole is a marvellous conception, magnificently realised. A first edition to cherish, inspired programming with immaculate recording and presentation – recommended enthusiastically.

Music-Web International

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