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Morton Feldman/Lenio Liatsou - For Bunita Marcus [God Records - 2015]

I have never enjoyed the music of Morton Feldman.  His insistence on total emptiness and dissociated non-structures has never compelled me to attempt to find the meaning some would insist exists in his work.  This recording of pianist Lenio Liatsou playing one of Feldman's particularly obscure later works, "For Bunita Marcus", is the first music of Feldman's I have put the time in to carefully examine.

In any given piece of his, the piano can be heard sounding single plaintive notes in sparse intervals, with such cushions of silence between them that no discernable pattern is allowed to form.  Looking at the scores of his pieces, the silences are apparently timed with ridiculous precision in illogical, non-repetitious meters, meaning none but the most accomplished virtuosos could hope to play his music.

Not only are the note patterns sparse, arrhythmic and unharmonized, they are clearly anti-melodic: usually a small set 2 or 3 pitches are alternated, allowing no larger melodic arc to form.  The result is both strangely mechanistic and lacking every piece one might usually look for in music.  If there is an emotion to it, it could only be loneliness.

If I really focus hard, my brain starts to pick up on the subtle rhythmic relationships between the protracted, slow motion figures.  What seemed at first like randomness becomes a puzzling structure of ambiguous meaning.  It's much like trying to make out faint shapes in near total darkness.  Later on, there are some slightly faster paced sections, in which the same irregular arpeggiation is repeated several times.

Ultimately, it retains its arbitrary character; it could have been generated by a computer, and reminds me more than anything of process and generative avant garde music.  The idea that Feldman thought this particular arrangements of pitches, with its ironically loose feeling, stubbornly anti-aesthetic feeling, could really have some kind of significance or meaning, is still puzzling to me.  It feels like any chunk of this could be rearranged with any other piece of Feldman music and achieve the same dull, energy depleting effect that occurs when one attempts to focus on music that does not have the substance to engage the attention.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that this is well performed Morton Feldman.  Lenio Liatsou, the pianist, quite clearly believes in the meaning inherent to Feldman's compositions, even if I don't, else why would she bother to play and record this music?  I must say her performance is as dynamic, expressive and diverse as possible given the source material.  There is quite a bit of variation to the lightness of her touch, and I feel any perceived structure or organization to the written notes is only allowed to emerge because of her shaping influence.

In conclusion, the music of Morton Feldman continues to sound like total randomness to me: a dull, arrhythmic meandering of hushed, totally isolated piano notes disallowed to relate to any other pitch that has been played, or to build any energy.  I feel pianist Lenio Liatsou is very talented and fully engaged in playing the music, but I have once again failed to find anything of worth in Feldman's compositions.  If you are a fan of Feldman, this recording may interest you, otherwise, it's quite likely you'll feel as I did; I'm a fan of all manner of cacophanous, unstructured avant garde, but this music is simply unengaging on every level.

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Josh Landry
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