Steffen Schleiermacher

New York School, Vol. 2

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In the second of three volumes, Hat continues its investigations into the works of the composers who, along with the poets and painters of their era (everyone from Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, to Frank O' Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and others), created an aesthetic approach to art that is now known as (given history's obsession with classification) the New York School. The earliest piece here is by Feldman, his Intersection No. 2 from 1951 for piano, played beautifully by Steffen Schleiermacher. Here the chord structures -- notated on graph paper -- illumine a particular de-centering of harmony as it occurs in time. It resembles a later work, "Spring of Chosroes," in that upper-register single notes played in twos and threes follow each chord and series of chords dynamically. The latest work is by Cage, from 1987, entitled "Composed Improvisation" for percussion and where nothing in the score is registered, save for duration and dynamics -- even the instruments are detailed. Jan Williams uses all manner of percussion's little instruments and a trap kit to play the score. Also noteworthy are the works from Earle Brown, perhaps the most formal of all his colleagues. All of his works on this disc are from the 1950s, all obsessed with freeing the performer within the composition -- this does not mean improvisation -- and the composition from the framework of formal musical structure and notation. Most notable is the "Octet 1" from 1952/1953, which are compositions for tape, long before they occurred to Karlheinz Stockhausen. They are "played": here by Eberhard Blum on flutes and manipulated sound objects as well as by fragmentary percussion and piano, strung together, sped up and slowed down, spindled, mutilated, and even burned onto a final master which is "played" according the to measures and dynamic instructions written in Brown's score, which has no time signature, no meter, or timbres visible. The version of "4 Systems" here, from 1954, is performed not only on flutes (Blum recorded an entire disc of this composition for overdubbed flutes for Hat earlier) but also for the flute and piano, which is, while not directly called for in the score, the instrument that most fits the harmonic bill with its extended tonalities and inexact pitches. Finally, the two works by Wolff, from the late '60s, the Pairs, version one, and "Pairs," version two, are full of what made that decade so pervasive on modern life: the simmering anarchy of flutes and piano accompanied by an arrhythmic set of glissando cymbals that erupt into (a)tonal clusters that challenge not only structure and time, but the notion of space as it exists inside the composition as well. The purpose is simple: This authority needed to be held accountable, and if not, then dissembled entirely. This is a lovely set, focusing on the beauty and understatement of these four men who were clearly searching their entire lives for a music freed up of all constraints while remaining music instead of disorganized sound. That said, it would be nice if Hat would seek out younger players for these works. It's not that Blum and company isn't capable; it's been proven they most certainly are, but the interpretations are studious, too reverential perhaps. Younger players (i.e., Hildegard Kleeb on piano) who are musically capable would give these pieces the element of surprise they posed to the composers in the first place. It would be a blessing to feel that from these works. But this is a minor complaint about a truly edifying set of music.

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