FELDMAN For Bunita Marcos
Often I wonder whether the unstoppable rise of Morton Feldman would have been possible without the CD. Pieces that run in unbroken stretches, often over hours, don’t find vinyl especially favourable to their cause, where the act of flipping the record over, and the mechanics of the needle re-engaging with the spinning grooves, imposes a narrative from outside the music. Vinyl is good for a pop song; good too for a Bruckner symphony with its neat divisions into movements. But Feldman lives or dies by how his music’s uncoiling, elaborating structures sustain themselves over time.
This new release – on vinyl – of Feldman’s 1985 solo piano For Bunita Marcus on the GOD Records label, performed by Lenio Liatsou, challenges us to think again about Feldman and format. With the boutique modern composition label Mode taking the trouble to issue alternate audio-only DVD versions (and in 24-bit stereo with an option to listen in surround sound) of Feldman’s extended-duration pieces, a return to vinyl could feel like gas lighting is about to make a comeback; but clear advantages present themselves. That steady stopwatch timer on a CD player counts down in everyday minutes and seconds; and pausing a CD when the time comes to take a tea break is another distraction. Vinyl commands your undivided attention.
And Lenio Liatsou’s performance is not to be missed. She cruises through Feldman’s labyrinthine grid at a steady tempo, certainly compared to Hildegard Kleeb’s classic 1990 performance, administering the sustain pedal sparingly, responsibility resting on the touch of finger against keyboard to carry the music’s inherent softness rather than relying on washes of ambient pedal. Vinyl brings an unfussy clarity; those occasional spiky fanfares Feldman embeds as structural markers register as hardcore shocks. When the spell is broken by needing to turn the records over, yes, it’s a nuisance; but there are considerable gains, too.
The main feature on ‘The New York School’ – music by Feldman, Cage, Earle Brown and Christian Wolff as performed by Ensemble Avantgarde – is Feldman’s Why Patterns? (inexplicably referred to throughout all the accompanying material as ‘Why Pattern?’) which, like Liatsou’s For Bunita Marcus, receives a measured and texturally stark performance. Stefan Stopora’s glockenspiel has a shrill edge that complements well Steffen Schleiermacher’s forthright piano against the obvious dulcet sweetness of Ralf Mielke’s flute. For a time it felt like Feldman interpretation was a done deal – good to see ideas about his music are again on the move.