Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman: Crippled Symmetry; Why Patterns?

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This double-disc collection of Morton Feldman's late-period work brings together two of his own most cherished pieces, both in the longer style that became his working method for the last 17 years of his life. Why Patterns? from 1978 is a work for flute, glockenspiel, and piano. It was inspired by Feldman's deep fascination with Persian rugs and their methods of creation. He discovered that there was an inexactitude in many of them that made the final product appear more mysterious and allowed for a deeper gaze on the part of the viewer. In true fashion, Feldman followed this course in creating a composition that followed suit. It consists of a large variety of patterns and is notated separately for each instrument. The trickiness is that in the score, the three parts don't coordinate or link up until very late in the score. The notation is close but is never synchronized, and it allows for more elaborate and chance relationships to develop in harmony, timbre, and color. Nothing given to one instrument is interchangeable, and the patterns, too, have their complications in that some repeat exactly and others with slight variations. Feldman creates a floating music that touches referent points seemingly only by chance, and intersects patterns at intervals that allow the listener a deeper mystery to contemplate. Crippled Symmetry is from 1983 and is one of Feldman's true masterpieces. Also written for flute, piano, and glockenspiel, it is notated as well for the inclusion of vibraphone and celesta. This work is over 90 minutes in length. It begins as a series of symmetrical statements by the percussion instruments and a phrase by the flutes that become interchangeable throughout the score's notation. Timbres and dynamics are in an arresting conflict with one another as the instruments struggle, seemingly, throughout the work for a kind of dynamic range that Feldman never allows to establish itself. Everything is played so softly and tentatively that a beautiful but defined dramatic tension is created by the nature of restraint itself. The glockenspiel and celesta hover about the irregular heartbeats of the vibraphone, which changes its patterns only three times in the course of the work but establishes a timbral superiority. Flutes take one line from the piano, one from the glock, and one from the celesta and cover all territories and patterns in the work as the piano creates minor triads that mysteriously shift emphasis from one interval to the next. What is symmetrical here is the constancy of movement -- its gentle, quiet, understated shifting of patterns and harmonic consonances. What is crippled is the strategy of the composer who creates these relationships among instruments and their tonal balances only to cancel them out gradually in favor of imbalances that must again work to create symmetry. This was Feldman's genius, never assuming anything about harmonic totality or tonal regularities. All tones in his work were ambiguities waiting to be encountered and entered into relationship with, however briefly. The three performers here, Jan Williams (glockenspiel and vibraphone), Nils Vigeland (piano and celesta), and Eberhard Blum (flutes), are intimately familiar with Feldman's notions about the mysterious nature of sonic encounter and (im)balances. They worked with him and were taught by him. They bring about a truly balanced and deeply nuanced reading of this work. And, as usual, Hat's recording quality is over the top. This two-disc set is still the watermark of definitive performance for these works, though many others have been attempted.

Track Listing - Disc 1

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Track Listing - Disc 2

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