"Boris Berman's second Naxos release devoted to John Cage's piano music presents a handsome cross-section of the composer's prolific output from the 1940s. For most of his prepared piano music, Cage gave meticulous instructions as to the manipulation of the piano's strings with rubber wedges, screws, bolts, and other implements. The ensuing sonorities transform the piano into a one-man percussion ensemble, with a heavy Gamelan accent. Yet no two pianos prepared in the same way ever sound alike. Each recorded version of a Cage prepared piano work differs in timbre. In Cage's 1944 Root of an Unfocus, for instance, Steffen Schleiermacher (on MDG) conveys a stark, interrogation-room-like aura through the deep resonance of his left-hand 'drumbeats' and buzzing right-hand stabs. By contrast, Boris Berman's latest recording on Naxos suggests a smaller, muffled drum, and more rounded right-hand interjections.
Primitive's dancing rhythms stay on a steadier track in Berman's performance, yet Schleiermacher's softer-grained reading conveys less of a pitch range. Perhaps the most obvious differences are found in The Unavailable Memory Of, which employs only three pitches. Schleiermacher's preparations render the notes as B-flat, F, and D: a major triad. With Berman, we hear an E-flat rather than a D, as well as a slower basic tempo. And compare Schleiermacher's murky, mysterious sounds in A Room, to Berman's simpler, funkier palette. The point is that both Berman and Schleiermacher understand and play this music fantastically well. Of course, Berman has the advantage of Naxos' budget price and slightly better sound...Listeners new to Cage's prepared piano oeuvre will be enchanted by the variety, humor, and beauty that typifies Berman's program. Solidly recommended."