Tzenka Dianova, preparing her piano
DeConstruction is an apt title for pianist Tzenka Dianova's album of music by Erik Satie and John Cage. Satie and Cage were the foremost experimentalists of their times, eager to push against the boundaries of tradition, so it's fitting that a contemporary interpretation of their work would challenge the performing conventions that have grown up around these pieces that were once considered revolutionary. Dianova plays Cage's 1944 piece for prepared piano, The Perilous Night, straightforwardly, but follows it with First DeConstruction (The Perilous Night) for unpreparing piano and electronics, which she created along with composer Charlotte Rose, to be performed immediately after the original. In it, the sounds made by removing the various items from the strings of the piano, returning it to its normal tuning, are electronically manipulated and played simultaneously with a live performance of the removal. Most of the other works on the album are presented in similar but less radical transformations. Dianova arranges Cage's two piano transcription of Satie's Portrait de Socrate for a single piano, and arranges Cage's Bacchanale, originally for solo prepared piano, for piano duet, and offers reasonable rationales for her choices. She plays Satie's Gnossienne IV on a detuned piano, simulating a quarter tone effect, in homage to Cage. Cage discovered and resurrected Satie's Vexations and had set up a performance lasting almost 19 hours that honored the composer's instruction to play the brief work 840 times. Dianova has a different take on the composer's admittedly ambiguous directions, making her performance last exactly 840 seconds, or 14 minutes. No instrumentation is given in the score, although it was apparently written for keyboard and is usually played on piano, but Dianova uses a celeste, and the effect is beguiling. It is probably irrelevant whether or not her interpretation matches the composer's intent since he obviously had little interest in giving clear performance directions, and it's uncertain whether he even envisioned it ever being performed at all; it may well have been an early example of conceptual art. In any case, as strange as the piece is, Dianova's choices make for a lovely performance. Many of the pieces on the album, in fact, as experimental as they are, sound just beautiful. The album should appeal to fans of adventurous keyboard music or any listener willing to expand horizons.
All Music Review.
John Cage, The Perilous Night (6 parts)
Charlotte Rose & Tzenka Dianova, First DeConstruction (The Perilous Night)
Erik Satie, Socrate I. Portrait de Socrate
Erik Satie, Le piège de Méduse
Erik Satie, Gnossienne IV
Erik Satie, Bacchanale **
Erik Satie, Vexations
Tzenka Dianova and Sarah Watkins** - Piano