Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns?

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Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns? Review

by Blair Sanderson

This CD presents two of Morton Feldman's most fascinating compositions, and both are given fine performances. In its tableau structure and austere treatment of melody, harmony, and color, Rothko Chapel is a musical analog of the paintings of Mark Rothko, displayed in the Houston chapel where this piece was premiered. Feldman's sonorities are soft and frequently recede into silences that are carefully spaced throughout. The music is often sparse, especially in the unaccompanied phrases for the viola and the isolated passages in the percussion. Yet when Feldman's harmony is at its densest, as in the choir's sustained block chords, the effect is mysteriously shimmering and not at all harsh. Somber and reflective, Rothko Chapel is best heard in a quiet room without distractions. Why Patterns? is less dependent on stillness for appreciation, though the intricately woven lines of flute, piano, and glockenspiel may induce a similarly contemplative feeling. The independence of the parts leads not to chaos, but instead creates constantly shifting textures and relationships, freely recycling the patterns without recourse to an externally imposed method. Feldman's intuitive approach to pitch structures and linear flow lets the music pursue its course naturally, without the mannered gestures of serialism or the accidents of improvisation.

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