CD review: Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra

First published in the Guardian on 26 October, 2017

Cage: Concert for Piano and Orchestra/Wolff: Resistance
Apartment House/Thomas (HCR)

Performers of John Cage’s piano concerto could theoretically play nothing at all, if that’s what they wanted. The point is about choice. “John, you’re my man,” said a trombonist in the original performance. “I’ll play for you any time.” Trust is the making of indeterminate music and Apartment House’s new recording is all trust. Philip Thomas makes the piano part magnetic, like the centrifugal planet in an erratic constellation. Around him spin trumpet, violin, flute and others, everyone quick-witted and playful. After 53 minutes the tenuous ecosystem suddenly dissipates and I was left pondering stark ecological resonances. 60 years on, 83-year-old Christian Wolff has written a companion piece for Cage’s concerto that should feel like a throwback: the name Resistance, the quotation from a Pete Seeger protest song, the old chance techniques. But Wolff’s music, his gracious, urgent way of questioning how we relate to each other, still feel entirely relevant.