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CAGE, JOHN: Klang der Wandlungen (3 CD Box)
These 3 CD contain 6 long works recorded by various German radio stations between 1985 and 2011. There are two orchestra pieces- seventy-four and 103, both late works – which dispense with conductors, leaving the coordination to the performers. The results are very similar in both cases: microtonal shifting drones with short, louder, single-instrument punctuations. More interesting for me is the 1982 multi-harp composition Postcard from Heaven – imaginatively multi-tracked and with clever use of incidental voices, by Gabriele Emde - is based on three double ragas and (unusually for Cage) improvisation. It’s meditative but still an interesting and timeless interpretation, and Emde exploits to the full the mysterious sonorities of her instrument. She also tackles here In a landscape, a much earlier solo work usually played on a piano - which meanders along pleasingly enough and is not too long. Finally, the composer Jakob Ullmann plays Some of the Harmony of Maine – a seldom heard and gargantuan piece based on direct transcriptions from a 1794 chorale book, which are subsequently subjected to various chance operations. This is interesting mainly because of the harmonic and structural power of the underlying material, and the fruitfulness of the compositional method. Though it’s a struggle at 59 minutes. This CD showcases a formally experimental Cage with - as he liked to insist - nothing to say, presenting unlikely material that you just have to accept or reject since there’s nothing in it (other than method) to understand – slightly undermined by Emde’s imagination and skill in the case of Postcards from Heaven, which does actually seem to have some focus and depth. Otherwise, it’s a fascinating confection of engaging surfaces - and another essential document for students - and aficionados - of Cage’s work. It comes in a sturdy hinged box with a book of rare photographs and a text that deals individually with the pieces and with Cage’s 1990 visit to East Germany.