Classical CD Reviews
JOHN CAGE / HANS OTTE: Orient/Occident – CAGE: Sonatas 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 16, Interlude #1, Gemini; OTTE: The Book of Sounds 2, 6, 8, 9, 10; Book of Hours 13, 16, 19, 24, 26, 39, 48 – Philipp Vandré, piano & Elmar Schrammel, prepared piano – Wergo
Published on May 15, 2008
This is a somewhat abridged version of a live piano recital which honored composer Otte’s 80th birthday. The focus was on listening to serene and mostly very quiet piano sounds, which was a favorite activity of two lifelong composer friends – the late John Cage, and the less-well-known still-active Bremen-based Hans Otte. The modest Otte at one time was a piano soloist with Paul Hindemith and the Berlin Philharmonic, and for many years headed the music department at Radio Bremen. Pianists such as Margaret Leng Tan and Herbert Henck have performed and recorded the music of Otte. He has created over a hundred works in many different genres over six decades.
The pieces in Otte’s two piano cycles – The Book of Sounds and The Book of Hours – seem to have all the time in the world to dispense their magic, reminding one of some of Erik Satie’s piano music. It was suggested that this piano music based in the Western tradition should be allowed to have a dialog with John Cage’s gamelan-like Sonatas & Interludes which employ a prepared piano. It would be musical meeting of the Occident and the Orient. One of the two Steinways was prepared with the bolts, screws, erasers, nuts and other items minutely detailed in Cage’s sheet music. Then mikes were place in the piano and several speakers installed on the floor pointed upward to provide a subtle enlargement of the low-level prepared piano sounds.
The pieces of the two composers are alternated thruout the concert. Cage’s prepared piano works have always been his only compositions I find myself returning to for enjoyable listening. Especially in an excellent recording such as this one, the unique sound-world he conjured up is in itself a distinctive blend of East and West. Otte’s music might be compared to the minimalist style, but there are also connections to Zen philosophy and some of the later ones venture into rarified freely tonal areas, though not of the serialized sort. Hearing the works of the two composers back to back displays some amazing similarities in their approaches – the pieces were selected toward that goal by the pianists. There is little dynamic level contrast here – it is more like a sotto voce musical kaleidoscope of fascinatingly changing timbres. I would suggest listening at least once on headphones to put a sonic magnifying glass on these subtly flowing sounds.
- John Sunier