California E.A.R. Unit
Morton Feldman – For Christian Wolff
Bridge Records 3xCD 9279A/C
Composed in 1986, just one year before his death, For Christian Wolff is one of Morton Feldman’s late, long masterworks. While briefer than For Philip Guston and String Quartet II, which can take upwards of five hours to perform, For Christian Wolff still clocks in at well over three hours without interruption, making it a daunting enough gauntlet for performers and audience members alike. But on California E.A.R. Unit’s triple disc recording, time seems to stop; one is entranced by the otherworldly sounds Feldman has wrought.
Christian Wolff (b. 1934) was the youngest member of the “New York School.” In the 1950s, along with Feldman, John Cage, and Earl Brown, he helped to forge new musical pathways that explored ground-breaking terrain – aleatory, unconventional structures, noise, silences, and graphic notation among them. Feldman’s homage to Wolff doesn’t make explicit references to the latter’s music. Feldman instead captures the slowly evolving, methodical aspects of Wolff’s hermetic life as a New England academic and transcribes them into an enigmatic score.
Piano, celesta (both played by a single keyboard player), and flute play slowly and softly for the piece’s entire duration, repeating just a few notes at a time – over and over and over again. The intervals formed are curious, spiky dissonances that never resolve conventionally. Despite the piece’s atonality, the prevailing pianissimo dynamic and lack of overt gesture removes any sense of confrontation or drama. Keyboardist Vicki Ray and the much-missed flutist Dorothy Stone (who passed away just last year) have recorded a focused, moving performance of this important and provocative work.