Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman: Piano (Three Hands)

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This collection of Morton Feldman's music, recorded by his contemporaries, friends, and students, among others, is both a fitting tribute to the man and a fitting showcase of Feldman's smaller compositions from 1952-1975. The set opens with one of Feldman's most "melodic" pieces, Piano Three Hands, from 1957, performed by Stephen Tilbury. There could be some criticism for what listeners might think of as Tilbury's "heavy hands," but it would be unfounded. The earlier scores did not contain the reliance on ppp or even pppp, but were more often in pianissimo or pp. In any event, it is a fitting place to begin, with its clipped tonal clusters and absence of pedals. Other notable contributions come from composer/pianist Cornelius Cardew and violinist James Negyesy, who perform a rendition of Vertical Thoughts, No. 2, from 1963. In a span of six minutes and 48 seconds, Cardew and Negyesy touch upon a tenet in Feldman's music that was a turning point: that tones and pitches did not have to move horizontally toward a fixed ending, but could move along a prescribed set of pitches seemingly at random for the purpose of creating new statements from the same colors. Of the later works -- there is nothing from the '80s here simply because everything Feldman composed after 1976 was very long -- David Tudor's piano-only Intersection 3 is a dead-on read, a brief but powerful orchestration of Feldman's more maximal style, full of harsh tonal clusters and jagged pitches arranged around a loose harmonic structure built from major sevenths and quarter notes. The final piece, the 25-minute Instruments from 1974, is one of the earliest of the mature, late works by Feldman. The period that had begun with Rothko Chapel in the late '60s was now coming in to its own in Feldman's music: large empty spaces, with single notes from a variety of instruments intersecting in the emptiness rather than in harmony, whispering their presence almost inaudibly, just floating, hovering for a moment as other tones rise, and then disappearing into the ether. It is performed beautifully by the ensemble from the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, and features Eberhard Blum on flute, one of Feldman's prized students and collaborators. In all, this is a fine Feldman tribute with a fantastic range of works. And while it is true that not all the performances here are stellar, there isn't a substandard one in the bunch.

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