Jed Distler
December 1, 2009

John Cage’s 1951 Sixteen Dances was constructed by using a table of 64 different sounds arranged into eight rows of eight columns. Only one of the sounds could appear at any point in the piece. The chart’s contents gradually change as the piece progresses, as the sounds are grouped into musical phrases. Sometimes the music is as spiky and pointillistic as Webern, yet other times repeated melodic fragments bubble up to the surface, only to dissipate just as your inner ear assumes that rhythmic groove might transpire. However, if sensitive performers take the time and trouble to transform such seemingly disconnected gestures into clear foreground/background textures with carefully scaled dynamics, genuine drama and long-lined logic emerge.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project players and conductor Gil Rose understand this. Their deft and refined chamber-like interaction truly speaks via this recording’s realistic concert-hall perspective. The interpretation differs from the more shapely impact that Paul Zukofsky’s closely miked recording offers, and generally benefits from faster tempi. While Ingo Metzmacher and Ensemble Modern offer the best of both worlds, their RCA traversal remains in catalog limbo. Still, Rose and BMOP serve John Cage’s undervalued brilliance as an orchestrator with the utmost care and conviction.

- Jed Distler

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