(Bridge 9420)

I was recently the lucky winner of a Morton Feldman-related Twitter quiz given by Merkin Concert Hall, which has made me the proud owner of Aleck Karis’ 2013 Bridge Records release, Aleck Karis: Weber, Wolpe & Feldman. File this under unexpected-perk-of-being-a-Feldman-scholar.

As is evident by his pithy CD liner notes, Karis understands the inner workings of these pieces, and this knowledge clearly informs his performance here. Careful attention is given in each piece to texture and contour, arguably the most salient features of this style of music.

The quality of the recording strikes a nice middle-ground between dry and reverberant, a notable achievement considering the overall quiet dynamics of the pieces, and the use of the sostenuto pedal; the decay is fast enough for each delicate note to be heard clearly, without the piano sounding dry as a bone.

Form (1959) by Stefan Wolpe. Like the Webern later in the recording, Form is, as Karis puts it in his notes, “tightly constructed,” a twelve-tone piece that takes pleasure in the refulgence of the piano.

Piano (1977) by Morton Feldman. His first piece for solo piano since embarking on his late style, which first began manifesting itself in the early 70s, Feldman uses a little chordal variation device in Piano that I particularly enjoy, called “crossover revoicing” by Paul Kopstick Ames. A simple example: in the right hand is the chord F#4-A4 and G5, and directly following it is the chord G4 and F#5-A5—same notes, but their registral placement has been swapped.

Form IV: Broken Sequences (1969) by Stefan Wolpe. Karis draws the connection between Wolpe and the jazz scene of his time, and this piece really does sound like bebop, giving the appearance of chaos while still within the walls of predetermined musical constructs.

Variations, op. 27 (1936) by Anton Webern. As Karis points out, Webern’s influence reached both Wolpe (Webern’s student) and Feldman (Wolpe’s student). What I’ve always appreciated about Webern’s music is how laconic it is, using a concise amount of material to express something larger than itself. I hear this particularly in Feldman’s music, the use of concise material spread over long spans of time (both of the Feldman pieces on this recording are over 20 minutes long), which leads me to—

Palais de Mari (1986) by Morton Feldman. Palais for me is a beautiful example of Feldman’s late style, in that it defies a close listening, lulling the listener into a sort of trance. It’s the magic of pieces like this and the second String Quartet that Feldman somehow suspends the forward motion of time, leaving you with a sense of pure aural pattern; it’s almost a negation of teleology, defying the idea of a Designer (though we know from Feldman’s sketches that he was a meticulous Designer). Karis does a lovely job playing the piece skillfully and unobtrusively, being faithful to the music both in its technical execution and its intended effect.

Many thanks to Karis, Bridge Records, and Merkin.