MORTON FELDMAN: For Philip Guston – Julia Breuer: piccolo, flute, alto flute; Matthias Engler: glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells, marimba; Elmar Schrammel: piano, celesta – Wergo

by | Jun 4, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MORTON FELDMAN: For Philip Guston – Julia Breuer: piccolo, flute, alto flute; Matthias Engler: glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells, marimba; Elmar Schrammel: piano, celesta – Wergo WER 6701 2. (4 CDs), About 4½ hours **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
For sheer chamber music length, this piece is bested  only by Morton Feldman’s other work, his six-hour String Quartet No. 2. Both works make us to marvel at any live performer’s stamina and bladder control. And what do you get for all this music? A protracted essay in ultra-modernism? A bizarre take on minimalism, perhaps even parody? Those things and more. Feldman has said that the longer the piece, the fewer musical ideas it needs to contain. For Philip Guston, named for a painter whose work spanned social realism to abstraction and then back to figuration, is an eerie tribute. The whole work occurs at a leisurely adagio and features series of repetitive two- and three-note figures. A simple dialog between the flute and the piano may go on for thirty minutes without altering direction.  Once in a while there’s a bit of excitement and a four-note figure intrudes. Change occurs at a glacial pace, but it does occur. The texture of Disc 1 is different from that of Disc 3 for example, in which Feldman explores the timbres of the many instruments at his disposal. There’s an odd background-dialog between the glockenspiel and the piano that happens as the piano is conversing in the foreground with the flute. Entire bars happen with one instrument playing the same dyad ten times. Once in a while you’ll recognize figures from other works. Like Shostakovich, Feldman wasn’t above self-quotation.
Finally, Feldman isn’t an acquired taste. Like cilantro and Siamese cats, you either love him or denounce him as a fraud. But if you do the latter, you’d be missing an evening of fine reading, with the four discs on your carousel CD player, patting that cat on your lap. You can even leave the room without putting the CD on hold, although I’m compulsive and don’t want to miss anything, however small. If it weren’t for a few mildly disturbing interludes and those subtle dissonant semitones, I’d consider this work ideal ambient sound. It provides little distraction and asks little in return. It’s almost meditative– but not quite. That would be categorizing it, an endeavor it deftly eludes.
— Peter Bates

Related Reviews