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Litany for the Whale

Artist: John Cage
John Cage - Litany for the Whale CD
Label: Harmonia Mundi
Regular Price: $14.95
On Sale For: $12.47 
Year: 2002
Format: CD


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John Cage is known for being a raucous composer, but he had a gentler side as well, and both sides are present on this marvelous recording. It begins with what is the disc's highlight, in my opinion: the remarkable "Litany for the Whale." The longest piece on this disc, it is scored for two voices, and has a call and response structure to it. The two male singers, recorded in a resonant chamber, are given five pitches to sing, one assigned to each letter in the word "whale." This is calm, spare, meditative music, unlike anything in the modern repertoire that I have heard. It is really beautiful.

"Five" is another "quiet" Cage piece. In it five men and women sing wordless, sustained pitches, reminiscent at times of Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna." "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" is one of my favorite Cage songs. It's a melodic work that features text by James Joyce and has the singer tapping a closed piano, as if a percussion instrument. "Experience #2" is a similar work, melodic and without percussive sounds. A female voice sings a lovely text, penned by ee cummings, which is set off by some lyrical humming as well.

Cage's whackier, more comical side is on display here as well, in the "Arias" and the "Solo for Voice." These voice stretching pieces are fascinating, and expertly rendered here, the electronics integrated in a polished and smooth manner. I can't emphasize enough how entertaining these pieces are.

Paul Hillier's group is ordinarily associated with Renaissance and Baroque era music (as well as music by Arvo Part). It is thrilling to hear these rarefied voices in this avant garde repertoire. More please!

John Cage (composer); Theatre of Voices featuring Terry Riley; Paul Hillier (conductor)
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