Review: John. Cage. Guitar. – THE ARTS FUSE

John Cage on guitar? Why not? Though the American maverick never wrote explicitly for the instrument, some of his early piano music was adaptable enough for guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan to arrange for his instrument. The results, out now John Cage: Guitar, are often enticing and plenty appealing.

Larget-Caplan’s program consists of seven Cage pieces, all of which originated in the 1930s and ‘40s, a couple of which are remarkably prescient. The opener, A Room, for instance, anticipates the Minimalist procedures of a later generation or two. And the prepared-guitar closer, Bacchanale, sounds a couple decades younger than it is, almost like a kind of high-brow anticipation of Jimi Hendrix.

In between come Cage’s Three Easy Pieces, which sound like just that: a set of short, contrapuntal exercises that exude not a little bit of charm, especially the central “Duo.” Chess Pieces and Dream are more substantial. The former is adapted from a composition that appears in a 1944 Cage painting while the latter, a ruminative essay, was originally conceived as a dance piece. In a Landscape is another affecting, resonant meditation.

Then there are Six Pieces, a set of radiant miniatures for violin and guitar, in which Larget-Caplan’s joined by violinist Sharon Leventhal. Cage’s writing here is highly specific – the violin part, for instance, indicates which string each note is supposed to be played on – but the music itself is anything but restrained, ranging from the quiet ecstasy of “Melody 1” to the jaunty syncopations of “Melody 3” and the subdued glow of “Melody 6.”

Larget-Caplan’s performances are excellent. Technically, he’s got everything under control, no matter how involved the arrangements get. What’s more, his playing brims with charisma and understanding: Cage can be a tough composer to really bring to life. Larget-Caplan (and Leventhal, in Six Pieces) manage the feat impressively.

Classical Music CD Reviews: ROCO’s “Visions Take Flight,” Nordic Affect’s “He(a)r,” and “John Cage: Guitar.”


 

Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

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