In the NEUMA cd of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes with Agnese Toniutti playing a prepared piano readied by her through the insertion among the piano strings of an assortment of screws and bolts and sundry foreign objects, we revisit one of Cage’s most interesting and most lauded works.
Sixteen sonatas and four Interludes occupy the album’s nineteen tracks, ranging in duration from one minute and fifty-two seconds to four minutes and four seconds, and adding up to over an hour of listening. The pieces are miniatures in duration but not in musical substance; their repetitive rhythms are never short of hypnotic; the execution exceptional.
The 1946-1948 works come from a period in the creative life of Cage when he was still in his early thirties and still finding his way as a musical “inventor” (a term he preferred to composer.) Cage was starting to embrace Eastern philosophies and having them influence not only his spiritual beliefs but his creative process as well. With this grouping of works Cage achieved what none of his detractors ever expected: a revelatory set of works that revealed sonorities never heard before emanating from a Western acoustical instrument. To hear sounds like this in mid-20th century, concertgoers would have had to travel to Bali to hear gamelan music played by Indonesian musicians.
The Italian keyboard player Agnese Toniutti is an artist fully committed to the works of composers of new music, not only 20th century masters like John Cage but those rising from among a new generation. Her performance of Sonatas and Interludes ranges from assertive when plumbing the bass register of the piano to delicate when nimbly executing the many soprano range figurations that Cage assigns to the right hand. Toniutti’s liner notes give us a fresh look into the seven decades old music that both her playing and her musicological insights make as fresh as if the work had been composed last year.
NEUMA’s Erdem Helvacioglu mastered the recording, Phillip Blackburn designed the album, Robert Kostka provided the artwork that enhanced this terrific recording.
Rafael de Acha © 2023
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