FELDMAN: Morton Feldman, Barbara Monk Feldman – Glenn Freeman et al. – OgreOgress Productions, DVD-Audio, 1:31:11 ****:
There’s something disconcerting about hearing recent Feldman music 25 years after his death, and music that is not by Morton Feldman. I’m talking about his widow, Barbara Monk Feldman, who is actually a fairly decent composer in her own right. More about her later. The pieces by Morton comprise a nice retrospective of his early years, with instrumental pairings such as cello and piano, two cellos, horn and cello, voice and piano, voice and chime, and percussion & piano/celeste. The pieces range from angry to placid, obliquely disturbing to vaguely reassuring, and those are only the first two rangings. The earliest piece, two pieces for cello and piano (1948), bursts into the room like a strutting young buck, flaunting his bravado in the face of postwar America. First, it says “don’t mess with me!” Then later it smolders with tenuous resentment like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Total length: 1:44.
The slowly disquieting two instruments for horn and cello (1958) begins to sound like later Feldman, with its long lugubrious lines and translucent statements. It has not gotten quite as repetitive as his String Quartet II (1983), but it’s head-scratchingly opaque enough for the most astute listener. My favorite is dance suite for percussion and piano/celeste (1963). It opens with ominous rumbling chords and you think it’s going to develop into something scary, but it doesn’t really, it settles in at “mysterious.” Feldman doesn’t flaunt the repetitious sequences as much as in his latter works. Percussionist Glenn Freeman does an excellent job varying the timbre of the percussion instruments at key moments.
Barbara Feldman’s duo for piano and percussion (1988), written a year after her husband died, is closest to his work in tone. It’s gentle and wispy with occasionally repetitious arpeggios (particularly on piano). However, it seems to go in different directions than her husband might have if he were at the piano. For one thing it doesn’t go around in circles that much, nor does it engage in subtly transformative variations. She also has included her the gentlest chord for voice (1991), a lyrical, – nay, a melodic –piece based on poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus (1922). And it’s a cappella! The final piece, pour un nuage violet for violin and cello (1998), is not that much like her husband’s work, yet you can still hear vague traces. It takes the listener to a land of purple clouds, whose insistent figures move slowly against the wind, not with it. In a final tribute to her husband, the piece doesn’t end so much as just stop.
— Peter Bates