John Cage: Music for Piano 4-84 Overlapped (YAN.006)

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John Cage
Music for Piano 4-84 Overlapped

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded and mixed 2017 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Anaëlle Marsollier
Piano technician: Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: May 24, 2018

What if I ask thirty-two questions?
What if I stop asking now and then?
Will that make things clear?
Is communication something made clear?
What is communication?
–John Cage, “Communication”

In her third intersection with the CUICATL sublabel, pianist Pascale Berthelot offers something truly unique in John Cage’s Music for Piano. Composed between 1952 and 1962 through a series of chance operations, Music for Piano grew into a set of 85 pieces. Numbers 4-84 took on a life of their own as incidental soundtrack for dancer Merce Cunningham’s 1953 Solo Suite in Space and Time, and these are presented in an unprecedented way: superimposed and played as one. Because Music for Piano indeed plays with notions of space and time—stretching, deconstructing, unraveling them as quantum material—it makes an ideal sort of sense in this collective reiteration.

Suggestions in the score were yielded by natural imperfections in the paper, where Cage decided to make a mark, thus freeing something that might otherwise have remained locked away in its planar prison. This fundamental action—of treating something noticeable as a rupture into sound production—gave emptiness to substance and substance to emptiness. In so doing, he proved the fallacy of silence altogether.

Despite the overlap (if not also because of it), an intense subtlety prevails. And because the notation is already so bare, the result is far from chaotic. It is, rather, like gazing upon a starry sky and hearing it for the first time. The deeper one goes into Berthelot’s performance, the more the piano sheds its associations as a center-stage instrument. Rather, in being plucked, strummed, depressed, and knocked from the inside out, it opens itself like a dictionary. Flipping through it as one would spin a globe and land a finger for want of random travel, Berthelot links one word after another until vocabularies, sentences, and paragraphs emerge. In reading them back to us, he fixes a narrative as such and allows us to wield it as a text. The beauty of it all is that we may cut a piece from anywhere along its trajectory and roll it out into another story altogether.

This recording is a gift that keeps on giving. A must for admirers of Cage, and for anyone who believes that music is something that should feel you, not the other way around.

Ivan Fedele: Musica della luce (YAN.002)

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Ivan Fedele
Musica della luce

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded in 2012 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Edited, mixed, and mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

The pianistic literature of Ivan Fedele is the subject of this recital by Pascale Berthelot, which follows her CUICATL debut. The program opens with the Italian composer’s Études boréales (1990). Meant to evoke the icy climate of Finland, it requires the performer to dig into the keyboard like a mountain climber might ascend by means of a pick. Such sharp attacks are resolutely luminescent, while the slower sections are murmurings of shadow. Internal resonances are beautifully enhanced in the third and fifth etudes, as if in a frozen cave exhaling its own voices across the valleys. The harmonics of the fourth are the tones of icicles falling from their state of overhang.

Études australes (2002/03) shifts to warmer, more forgiving spaces. Subtitles of individual etudes (Tierra del fuego, Cape Horn, etc.) suggest polar geographies but also the genera (e.g., Aptenodytes) and species of birds who inhabit them. With no pedal indications to lead the way, Berthelot is left to interpret the duration of every note cluster as if it were its own hybrid, jumping from sparkling cliffs into oceanic depths.

The Toccata (1983, 1988) is an ode to the composer’s own youth and the revelry of practicing at the piano. That feeling of repetition, of evolution and involvement, is omnipresent. Insistence and flowery ornamentation go “all in” throughout this fascinating and unabashedly honest music.

Cadenze is a set of nine aphorisms composed over a 25-year period (1983-2008). Though short, they practically insist on lingering long after being uttered. Thus, the markings of each are as much linguistic as environmental. Some particularly striking examples are numbers III (a psychic rush), VI (a dance that never gets off the ground), and VIII (a lullaby for DNA).

Nachtmusik (2008) concludes with a piano-only section from the longer Deu notturni con figura, itself for piano and electric piano. As the most brooding narrative at hand, it pulls itself through a thick emotional transference, ever aware of its age.

Fedele’s oeuvre is a collective study of contrasts in the same planetary body. Just as the Earth’s axis suggests two tilts—one toward the sun and the other away from it—it balances light and dark, warmth and cold, art and science. This is neither a treatise or a manifesto, but a short story collection rolled into a ball and kneaded until its words are no longer distinguishable.

Morton Feldman: Triadic Memories (YAN.001)

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Morton Feldman
Triadic Memories

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded and mixed in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

Around fifty solo piano pieces are attributed to composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987), whose relationship with the instrument was like that of light to prism. This studio recital by Pascale Berthelot, recorded in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at La Buissonne, marks the inaugural release in the studio’s CUICATL imprint, dedicated to documenting world-class performances of contemporary classical material.

Triadic Memories, written for Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi in 1981, is a cartography not only of triads and memories as self-contained entities but also of the ways in which each informs the other. Arpeggiated chords mark ephemeral borders; motifs are recycled and transformed. Every shade comprises a vocabulary of solitary travel. In the words of Feldman himself: “In this regularity (though there are slight gradations of tempo) there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin—where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.” Thus, Feldman’s interest in duration over rhythm (or, as Louis Goldstein puts it, “[h]is concern with how a musical composition sounds, rather than how it is made”) takes precedence, just as one’s footsteps might give the illusion of regularity yet, upon closer scrutiny, reveal endless possibilities. Like a child learning how to walk yet whose comportment speaks of an innate knowledge passed down genetically, cosmically, from body to body (if not soul to soul), Triadic Memories recalibrates the parameters of our attention span until we no longer feel present in ourselves. And just as we are about to get stuck, we find our equilibrium restored, over and over, until only beauty remains to show for our passage.

One of the missions of CUICATL is to include pieces appropriate for conservatory students to learn and play. In this case, it is Feldman’s Piano Piece of 1952. Despite its more rigid structure and shorter duration, it feels less welcoming than Triadic Memories. Premiered by David Tudor in 1959, it has been rarely recorded since. Its score suggests not melodies but organisms. These we can hold as one might hold a newborn and watch them grow in a space where the air shapes itself as a sentient, physical substance. This is character of Feldman’s music: its willingness to let contradictions speak as the fully formed individuals they are rather than stand before the court of our scrutiny as selves divided between prosecution and defense.