Strings, Keyboard, Percussion, Voices, Horn
Karen Krummel (cello), Glenn Freeman (percussion), Paul Hersey (keyboards), Christina Fong (violin), Debora Petrina (piano/celeste),Paul Austin (French horn), Gwendolyn Faasen (voice), Alicia Eppinga (cello), Brian Craig (voice), Barbara Witham McCargar (voice)
OgreOgress Productions (DVD-A)
I had heard about this project a few years ago on the vertical thoughts listserv. At first, I wasn’t sure much of this represented music Morton Feldman wanted heard-it seemed like music that was fragmentary, or else possibly discarded by Feldman, and perhaps only of real interest to musicologists and die-hard Feldmanites like those of us on the listserv. I’m delighted to say that this is not at all the case. Indeed, this disc represents a badly needed addition to the Feldman discography. While I’m delighted by the multiple recordings of Triadic Memories and For John Cage, there remain several works by Feldman that remain unrecorded, and the list has been winnowed down thanks to this album. Yet unreleased works include:
1943 Jubilee (string orchestra)
1943 Night (string orchestra)
1945 [Composition] for string orchestra (no basses)
194? I Loved You Once (voice, string quartet)
1946 Sonatina for Cello and Piano (3 movements)
1949 [or 1959] (458-0808) Lost Love (voice, piano)
194? [Composition] for piano
1953 Intersection (piano?)
1972 Half a Minute It’s All I’ve Time For (clarinet, trombone, piano,
All of the works by Morton Feldman on this audio DVD (mp3’s will no doubt be available on iTunes, Amazon and others in the future) are important works in his oeuvre. The one oddity is the very brief For Stockhausen, Cage, Stravinsky and Mary Sprinson (1972). This piece is half a minute long, and makes most of Webern’s works seem like, well, late Feldman. I’m not sure what Feldman intended for it, or if it is a complete work as indicated by Glenn Freeman, but it is nice just the same. I could have a contest, perhaps, to see who knows who Mary Sprinson is, but I’ll give it away-she was a girlfriend of Feldman’s in the 70’s.
Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] is an early work of Feldman’s yet is a lot like other works he would write in the early 50’s. It is short and sparse, but has his fingerprints all over the notes. Extensions 5 is a beautiful work for two celli, much like the other works in the Extensions series. Two Instruments is perhaps my absolute favorite piece on this album. It is like Four Instruments in concept, but is not at all the same work or a rehash. It is a series of tones for horn and cello, all quiet and always beautiful. I can’t get it out of my head.
The album includes two brief vocal works, both of which are pleasant. Then there’s the Dance Suite, which is in four movements for percussion and piano/celesta played by two performers. It is often sparse and static like much Feldman at that time, and seems to predict later works like Why Patterns and For Crippled Symmetry in regard to the timbres.
Besides the premieres of music by Morton Feldman, this DVD-A is remarkable for its inclusion of four works by Feldman’s wife, Barbara Monk Feldman. Written between 1988 and 1998, they encompass the decade just after her husband’s untimely death from pancreatic carcinoma. Not surprisingly, they owe much to Morton Feldman, but also express an individual voice. For example, the Duo for Piano and Percussion, written just after Morton’s death, seems to me to be a riff on For Bunita Marcus, and expands on some of the chords from that long piano work. I enjoyed listening to it a great deal. The Gentlest Chord is a solo vocal work that is also worth hearing. Clear Edge is a brief piano piece that, I think, owes the least to Morton Feldman. Finally, there is the work Pour un Nuage Violet [after Marguerite Clerbout] that I think expands upon the musical universe that her husband created. There are parts that certainly remind one of late (Morton) Feldman, but this is also a work that has its own unique voice. The rapid pizzicato textures between the violin and cello are not anything I’ve ever found in any of Morton Feldman’s works, and while some of the chords inhabit part of his galaxy, the work itself is from another universe. It’s an incredible piece, and I’m glad it is available, along with the other works by Barbara Monk Feldman.
The performances are first rate and the many artists on this album were clearly devoted to doing the music justice. This album belongs on any Feldmanite’s holiday wish list, and should be heard by anyone with any interest in late 20th-century music. Now, I’m still waiting for the other works on the list above to get recorded already. And I definitely want to hear more music by Barbara Monk Feldman.