CD: Cage: Sonatas and Interludes, John Tilbury

Also reviewed: Henze: Voices, Walker/ Sperry/ London Sinfonietta/ Henze
Xenakis: Synaphai; Aroura; Antikthon, Madge/ New Philharmonia Orchestra/ Howarth
Takemitsu: Corona; For Away; Piano Distance; Undisturbed Rest, Roger Woodward

Launched this autumn, the Explore label has been set up "to explore the large number of existing recordings of rare and unusual repertory which have never been available internationally on CD". The company's first batch of releases are all taken from LPs that first appeared on Decca group labels in the 1970s. Recordings of Beethoven and Hummel piano sonatas from Malcolm Binns, Christopher Hogwood playing Orlando Gibbons keyboard music and The Consort of Musicke in the works of John Jenkins were all released on L'Oiseau-Lyre, while seven discs of late 20th-century music were originally part of Decca's Headline series, which brought a number of significant works into the catalogue for the first time.

As well as the four discs listed above, CDs of Panufnik's Sinfonia di Sfere and Sinfonia Mistica, Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen and Roberto Gerhard's The Plague have also been released, each exactly as it first appeared on vinyl. That can be a doubtful blessing - with just 41 minutes of music, Roger Woodward's recital of four rather unremarkable piano works by Takemitsu can hardly be recommended - while the use of the original sleeve notes is another strange period touch. The works of Takemitsu and Cage are discussed as though the composers are still alive and active, and an opportunity to place these pieces in a broader historical perspective is lost.

Yet it is good to have these pieces in the CD catalogue, especially Henze's song cycle Voices, with its 22 settings of authors ranging from Heinrich Heine to Ho Chi Minh; the songs may be uneven, but the best of them are as fine as anything Henze has composed, and this performance, conducted by the composer, has never been bettered. The three Xenakis works from the late 1960s and early 1970s are typical examples of his furiously rebarbative music of that period, curiously compelling in its sheer wildness. John Tilbury's account of Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano is at the other end of the contemporary-music spectrum; some later recordings have found more rhythmic variety in Cage's pieces, but for sheer strange beauty of sound, this one is unequalled.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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