Magazine article Gramophone

Modern Masters and More: Philip Clark Enthuses over Sony Classical's Focus on Some Unusual 20th-Century Fare

Magazine article Gramophone

Modern Masters and More: Philip Clark Enthuses over Sony Classical's Focus on Some Unusual 20th-Century Fare

Article excerpt

Sony Classical has gone out on a limb here. True enough, the company owns this material and cheaply repackaging back-catalogue music is a complete commercial win-win. But sitting alongside some certified modernist classics--Boulez's Le marteau sans maitre, Stravinsky's Agon, Ives's Concord Sonata, Crumb's Voice of the Whale, Stockhausen's Zyklus and Berio's Serenade--comes a compendium of the gloriously uncertifiable.

Just how often do you hear choral music by Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley and Toshi Ichiyanagi? Or have the chance to sample historically significant electronic works by Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachensky, Mario Davidovsky and Otto Luening? Or pieces like David Del Tredici's Syzygy, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati's Interpolation and Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, which are more often cited in the history books than actually heard? All this, and more, is yours for about the price of a pizza and a glass of wine. Just don't go expecting anchovies on the side. This is the basic Margherita--the goo of the music without a single booklet-note or any original cover-art. Each of the 10 discs is slipped inside a slim card case, all illustrated with the same anonymous pre-formatted design.

Chronologically, the set starts with Charles Ives. Ives's 1943 demo recordings of Concord Sonata extracts, recorded in Mary Howard's midtown Manhattan studio, remain a startling and essential document. Fingers play the notes accurately but Ives's mind is already thinking beyond what has been notated on the page. Playing the 'Emerson' movement, he begins to improvise freely, and we can eavesdrop on the true Ivesian spirit unfolding in real time.

When I assembled my Concord Sonata 'Collection' in 2012, John Kirkpatrick was an essential missing link. Kirkpatrick premiered Ives's sonata in 1939 and how disappointing it was to find his excellent 1945 recording slumming it as download only. Worse still, his 1968 remake was nowhere to be found; and I wonder if Sony Classical fully appreciate that their box-on-a-budget has sneaked back into the public domain Kirkpatrick's disappeared classic? It's a devastating performance, the itchy and uncontainable energy of the opening finding serene calm during the last movement.


But Ives is Ives, a composer in a category of his own, and the remainder of the box challenges you to piece together where all these progressive compositional spirits stand in relation to each other. The radical conservatism of Pierre Boulez, Torn Takemitsu, Milton Babbitt and Luciano Berio has precisely nothing to do with the anarchies of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros, and has even less in sympathy with Harry Partch's beatnik modernism. …

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