Christian Wolff Pianist: Pieces

Christian WolffPianist: Pieces
Considered by John Cage to be the most "musical" of the experimental composers, Christian Wolff has increased his output markedly since 2000, with nearly a third of his pieces being produced since then. So, it's appropriate that Sub Rosa has released the present three-CD retrospective set of piano-centric works by this influential American artist, spanning nearly four decades of his career. The expansive recording project, performed entirely by pianist Philip Thomas, is filled with engaging, spiky pieces. In part, the performances' liveliness and immediacy can be attributed to Wolff's use of "wedges," rests of indeterminate length, which Thomas thoughtfully employs to dramatic and energizing effect.

The early pieces, such as "For Prepared Piano" from 1951 and the demanding "For Pianist" from 1959, sound as fresh and surprising as the unpredictable discontinuities of the premiere recordings of "Small Preludes" from 2010. The panoramic 96 tracks of 2004-5's "Long Piano (Peace March 11)" are extraordinary for their kaleidoscopic changes of approach to phrasing, density, melodic shape and dynamics as well as lengths of silence. "Patches," Wolff's name for the units of material, vary from as little as five seconds to the longest, a bit short of three minutes. Anticipating what will happen in the next moment only to have that expectation thwarted makes for absorbing listening. Pianist: Pieces is a mesmerizing three-hour encounter with a creative mind. (Sub Rosa)