Second in a complete series of the Number Pieces (final works) for strings and/or percussion, this 61-minute CD features the world premiere recordings of John Cage's Three2, Twenty-Three and Twenty-Six.
At first hearing, Cage's 'number pieces', which he started in 1987 and worked on until his death in 1992, might seem to be extreme oxymorons as beautifully voiced chords imperceptibly drift in and out of focus. Cage's writing certainly feels as though it is conceived harmonically. But is it, in fact, the case? Well, it's certain Cage wouldn't have passed any academic music theory exam, but his 'number pieces' represent the most radical rethink of the very stuff of harmony. Twenty-Six is oddball and eerie. The harmonies are slightly sour and given extra spice by tiny, expertly placed glissandi. The effect of layering 26 separate vibrato-less violin parts suggests something almost superhuman, but the music also has an attractive vulnerability. Twenty-Three adds Karen Krummel on cello to make a virtual string quartet, and the richness and scope of this highly sensual performance is a joy. Philip Clark, The Wire, September 2001
Both percussion works are short. Three2 is played here on metallic instruments and runs about nine minutes. The result is a sustained exploration of metallic percussion. Six is even shorter at three minutes and uses a wider variety of instruments including what sound to be tympani. Twenty-Three is for roughly the same ensemble as Strauss's late Metamorphosen (Cage does not use double basses in his work). Although the actual music could not be more removed from the Strauss masterpiece, it does convey a sense of loss of surprising poignance. Twenty-Six is for twenty-six violins and is rather similar. The result in both cases is a slowly shifting cluster that expands and contracts in both pitch and density over the twenty plus minutes of each piece. The emotional content is, I am quite sure, entirely unintentional. Still there is an elegiac quality to both of the string pieces, in particular Twenty-Three, that is surprisingly moving and beautiful … these performances are certainly an important addition to the canon of Cage performances. Recommended. John Story, Fanfare, July/August 2002
Three2 and Six are continuous sounds for percussion, Twenty-Three and Twenty-Six are for violins and cellos electronically manipulated at great length and all in endlessly long tones. There are no notes, but one may eventually discover a paragraph quoted from Cage printed on the disc itself. David Moore, American Record Guide, January/February 2001