MORTON FELDMAN and EDGAR VARÈSE: Piano works = Piece for four pianos; Five Pianos; Amériques (version for 2 pianos) – Helena Bugallo, Amy Williams, Amy Briggs, Benjamin Engeli, and Stefan Wirth, pianos – Wergo

by | Oct 7, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MORTON FELDMAN and EDGAR VARÈSE: Piano works = Piece for four pianos; Five Pianos; Amériques (version for 2 pianos) – Helena Bugallo, Amy Williams, Amy Briggs, Benjamin Engeli, and Stefan Wirth, pianos – Wergo 6708 2, 61:48. [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]  *****:

“Make sure you think about the time it speaks from the stage to out there.” Through this enigmatic comment, Edgar Varèse is said to have inspired Morton Feldman to become a serious composer. A producer at Wergo records heard about this historic exchange and decided to splice the two composers together on a disc. They are radically different, one a forger of dynamic, fevered, and rhythmic works, the other a spinner of laid back trancelike and often very long compositions. Despite this odd pairing, the program works.

Feldman’s eight-minute Piece for four pianos sets the soporific mood, concentrating on tone clusters of repeating notes and duplets that drop like change from his pocket. There are barely perceptible pattern changes and you will hear them someday, as you are folding laundry or stirring pea soup. Yet nothing quite prepares you for this new transcription of Varèse’s Amériques (unless you’ve heard the orchestral version). It quickly builds in dynamic power and shakes you to the core with its massive crescendos and steeplechase pace.

If you need further preparation, a quick listen to Stravinsky’s piano four-hands version of The Rite of Spring might supply some musical clues. (Varèse sometimes quotes from the master, and not just in this piece.) Note that this is also a world premiere recording, with pianist Helena Bugallo playing this transcription she completed decades after Varèse abandoned his. It is quite successful and rips along like middle-period Bartók. After so much excitement, Feldman’s Five Pianos comes on like a needful nap. In form it doesn’t differ much from Piece for four pianos, despite the fifteen-year gap. There are some added chord dissonances and further harmonic venturings, but it’s still a soporific piece of excellent aural wallpaper (an appellation Feldman would have taken as a compliment).

— Peter Bates

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