Houston Chamber Choir / Kim Kashkashian / Sarah Rothenberg / Steven Schick / Robert Simpson

Rothko Chapel: Morton Feldman, Erik Satie, John Cage

(CD - ECM #4811796)

Review by

This is a marvelous release, equally perfect in conception, execution, and engineering. The program locates the intellectual origins of the American avant-garde composers Morton Feldman and John Cage not in postwar European developments, but in the music of Erik Satie, who with each decade seems a more pioneering figure. Feldman and Cage here seem not modernists, but postmodernists. Front and center at the beginning is Feldman's masterpiece Rothko Chapel (1967), a chamber-ensemble-and-chorus evocation of the Houston, Texas, chapel adorned with paintings by, and partly designed by, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko. The album thus reflects local roots for the Houston Chamber Choir, hitherto a solid regional ensemble but hardly suspected capable of the heights they achieve here. The implications of the Feldman are spun out in works by Cage -- the choral realizations of the works entitled Four2 and Five are quite unusual -- and retrospectively connected to Satie, the latter played with a full sense of their significance by pianist Sarah Rothenberg. Rothko Chapel was meant to be performed in the actual chapel, but it's hard to fault ECM for choosing a pair of Texas auditoria instead: the results are sonically stunning. The explosive surprises in Satie's pieces, which do indeed link them to the shocks Cage would later offer, come through with incredible intensity; auditioned on an inexpensive stereo the sonics are gripping, and it's hard to imagine what joys await the possessor of equipment truly capable of realizing ECM's engineering work. Very highly recommended.

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