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Captivating Cage From Agnese Toniutti

Jed Distler

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

Almost all new-music pianists with a predilection for extended and experimental techniques eventually must reckon with John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. As it happens, most of this contemporary classic’s numerous recorded versions are excellent, although the fact that no two prepared pianos sound exactly alike makes it difficult to favor one interpretation over another.

Certainly there’s much to admire in the Italian pianist Agnese Toniutti’s centered rhythm, rich palette of dynamic nuances, and her sensitive textural delineation. For example, the bass note strokes in Sonata No. 3 sound more like distant drum beats here, rather than the usual hitting a garbage can lid, effectively anchoring the gentle right-hand flourishes.

The First Interlude’s relaxed lilt contrasts with slightly more propulsive performances such as those of Julie Steinberg (Music and Arts) and Boris Berman (Naxos). Sonata No. 5’s swaying mallet percussion sonorities stand at opposite ends from Margaret Leng Tan’s ferocity and biting overtones, although the imposing brightness of Tan’s piano renders the barcarolle-like No. 12 more majestically than in Toniutti’s softer-grained rendition. It’s also interesting to contrast the shapely melodic droplets Toniutti creates in the “Gemini” combined Sonatas 14 and 15 with Maro Ajemian’s slower and starker interpretation from her world-premiere recording of the cycle.

While the engineering does justice to Toniutti’s nuanced dyanmics, I prefer the warmer resonance and crystalline clarity of the John Tilbury and Yuji Takahashi reference versions. Still, Toniutti unquestionably conveys the music’s roots in dance, as well as Cage’s subtle humor. Her intelligent, well-written booklet notes discuss both the music and the process of getting it ready for performance.


Recording Details:

Reference Recording: John Tilbury (Explore); Yuji Takahasi (Denon); Margaret Leng Tan (Mode); Julie Steinberg (Music and Arts)

  • CAGE, JOHN:
    Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano

    Soloists: Agnese Toniutti (piano)

  • Record Label: Neuma - 733102526726
  • Medium: CD

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