Morton Feldman - Late Works for Piano [Kairos Music - 2021]
Late Works For Piano is a three-CD set from late last year, bringing together as its title suggests later piano-based work composed by great American modern classical/ minimalist composer Morton Feldman. Featured here are three pieces- two longer seventy-plus minute works, and one around twenty-six-minute work- with all three being played with great feeling and clarity by Spanish-German pianist Alfonso Gómez.
The release appeared in late December last year on the Austrian label Kairos. The three CDs come presented in an eight-panel digipak, which features grey textured artwork on the front cover, and a nineteen page English/ German language booklet- featuring a six-page write-up on the pieces and Feldman’s work in general, bios and track listings.
It’s fair to say Feldman’s work is highly divisive- you’ll either love and become enthralled by his slow, stark and pattern-based composition, or find his work too low key, vague and abstract. I fall very much in the former camp, having been enchanted by his work since I first heard it some twenty years back. So it’s always great to get in new recordings of the composer's work, as each player has a slightly different way of presenting Feldman’s composition- with often different runtimes.
Spanish-German pianist Alfonso Gómez was born in 1978, he studied at the Conservatory of Vitoria-Gasteiz with Albert Nieto, at the Rotterdam Conservatory (Holland) with Aquiles delle Vigne and at the University of Music Freiburg (Germany) with Tibor Szász, where he graduated with distinction. He’s performed at numerous recitals around the world. As a soloist, he has performed in concert with numerous orchestras such as BrandenburgischesStaatsorchester Frankfurt (Oder), Euro-Asian Philharmonic, Basque National Orchestra, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Homburg Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Young Philharmonic- to name just a few. So, a highly talented and respected pianist, which is what is needed for playing Feldman. All the pieces here were recorded in mid-May 2021, in Wolfgang Hoffmann-Saal which is one of the performance rooms of Hochschule für Musik, which is located in Freiburg Germany.
First up taking up the whole of disc one we have "For Buntita Marcus"- this was composed by Feldman in the year 1985, two years before in his death from pancreatic cancer. Lengthwise this piece is one of his mid-length compositions, with running times coming anywhere between seventy & eighty minutes. The version here rolls in at seventy-three minutes and twenty-four seconds. Like most of Feldman’s compositions, it’s built around a selection of patterns- these are sometimes melodic, sometimes not. And I’d say "For Buntita Marcus" is one of his more difficult and abstractly sparse works, as the patterns played shift and move- with repeated elements been less often, as well as moments of sudden jarring-ness appearing here and there. The notation largely stays between mid-range, and slightly higher- with the patterns moving from slow weaving descents and climbs, tolling hits, lulling darts and their reverb, and lastly sudden way off pattern deviations- which total throw ones focus, before quickly moving back into more even, if still shifting pattern flow. It’s an interesting, and rather challenging piece to open the set with- and not a track for those not accustomed to Feldman’s work. Personally, I enjoy it, getting reward from the unpredictability, yet largely constantly flowing notation of the work.
Moving onto the second disc, and we open with one of the shorter and approachable of Feldman’s later works 1986’s “Palais De Maris”- which runs here at twenty-six minutes and forty-one seconds mark. The track opens with lulling glum-yet- melodic cluster of climbing notes- these repeat themselves a few times before another pattern appears- once again these are sometimes harmonic, sometimes not. In time the original roll of notes reappears again, though at times slight altered- before once again another pattern appears again. I have a real soft spot for this particular piece, as it was one of the first works I heard of Feldman’s, and would say if you're looking at tasting the composer's work, this would be a great place to start.
Next up on disc two, we have the first thirty-three minutes of 1981’s "Triadic Memories"- and this piece has received playing times between one hour and over one and a half hours. This playing in its two parts sits at the longer/ slower playing of the work. The piece begins with a blend of gloomy bounding low-end notation and higher more fraught darts. As the piece progresses we get blends of tolling if hazed mid-to-lows, and more taut higher darts and climbs. With moments where just the lows, mids or highs play on their own. We do get patterns that are repeated quite often, and these move between the grimly harmonic and moodily discordant. On the third disc we find the remaining fifty-three minutes and ten seconds of the piece appear- it’s a little frustrating that they’ve had to split the piece, but it can’t be helped with the CD format.
Throughout these three pieces, the playing from Gómez is both precise and emotional. He plays each with great flair and clarity- being quiet and focused when needed, then darting & atmospherically harmonic to discordant when needed. This is my first experience with Gómez, and it’s certainly made me very keen to hear more of his playing.
In finishing Late Works For Piano is a nicely presented set, with Gómez playing throughout been wonderfully defined, yet felt. If you would like to order this direct from Kairos, and support the label drop by here. Roger Batty