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In time for the John Cage centenary here is a wonderful and fresh account of the great iconoclast’s music that conveys the playfulness, the serenity and the sense of freedom that animated it from the outset. This is, mostly, early Cage. Music from the 1940s primarily but also settings of poems by Gertrude Stein and e.e. cummings from the 1930s, as well as ”Nowth Upon Nacht” a late entry from 1984, a composition in memory of Cathy Berberian for which Cage returned to the same page of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” which had inspired his “Wonderful Widow of 18 Springs” in 1942.

Our interpreters here: Alexei Lubimov, pianist, and Natalia Pschenitschnikova, singer. As Paul Griffiths writes in the liner notes “the music exists between them and the composer. It exists in singing that has a raw living edge and it exists in piano tone that can be utterly simple and utterly remarkable.” Several of the pieces feature prepared piano, Cage’s particular innovation, effectively transforming the grand piano into makeshift Gamelan orchestra, conjuring gonglike sonorities from its harp of strings by the simple expedient of adding nuts, bolts, screws and pieces of wood and rubber weather-stripping. “There is also a third presence”, Griffiths notes, “that of the producer [Manfred Eicher] bringing forward the extraordinary resonances that come from Lubimov’s piano, with preparation or without.”

Lubimov was one of the artists who consistently championed Cage’s work in Russia from the 1960s onwards. He gave the first monographic concert of his music at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1976, “to the fury of the academic professors” as the pianist recalls in the performer’s note here. By 1988 resistance to things Western, even experimental things, had relaxed a little and the Composers Union of the USSR was able to invite Cage to Leningrad. Lubimov and Natalia Pschenitschnikova met him in Moscow on his way there. A few weeks later both participated in a meanwhile legendary five-hour Cage concert at the Alternative Contemporary Music Days at the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture. In 1991 Lubimov had contact to Cage in New York and he and Pschenitschnikova have continued to play his music through the years.

Alexei Lubimov previously included Cage’s “In A Landscape” on his acclaimed ECM recital disc “Der Bote”, recorded in 2000.

“As It Is” was recorded at the DRS Radio Studio Zürich in December 2011.

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Born in Moscow, pianist Alexei Lubimov established an early dual passion for baroque music performed on traditional instruments and also 20th century composers such as Schönberg, Webern, Stockhausen, Boulez, Ives, Cage, Ligeti, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Silvestrov and Pärt. As political restrictions were lifted in Russia during the 1980s, Alexei Lubimov soon emerged among the first rank of international pianists giving concerts in Europe, North America and Japan. He has appeared with major orchestras and conductors around the world, and given innumerable solo concerts. Since 2000 he has recorded regularly for ECM with albums including “Der Bote”, with music of Liszt, Glinka and CPE Bach alongside John Cage and Tigran Mansurian; Arvo Pärt’s “Lamentate” with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, “Messe Noir” with music of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin; and “Misterioso” with music of Silvestrov, Pärt and Ustvolskaya, and “Metamusik/Postludium” with music of Silvestrov. Earlier in 2012 ECM issued his recording of Debussy’s Préludes.

Natalia Pschenitschnikova was last heard on ECM playing flutes on Giya Kancheli’s “Exil” and “Abii ne viderem”. Her discography includes recordings of Andrei Wolonsky, Sofia Gubaidulina, W.A. Mozart, Ivan Sokolov, Johannes Fritsch, Klaus Lang, Sergej Nevski and Helmut Oehring. Born in Moscow, she graduated from its Tchaikovsky Conservatory as a flutist, and toured the former Soviet Union in duo with her pianist/harpsichordist sister, Elena. Emphases of her work were 18th century music on historical instruments, and 20th century music by composers including Varèse, Denisov and Stockhausen. Pschenitschnikova has also long been active in theatre, dance and performance art, and in recent years gained a reputation as a vocalist in the experimental domain. Focal points of her repertoire include vocal works of Xenakis and Scelsi.

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