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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
Triadic Memories (1981) [89:46]
Piano (1971) [25:22]
John Snijders (piano)
rec. 2000, Hessischer Rundfunk, Frankfurt
HAT[NOW]ART 205-1/2 [62:42 + 52:33]

Triadic Memories is a vast musical canvas, the notes of which are brushstrokes that build to create their own universe in the mind. As Christopher Fox’s sleeve notes for this release point out, Feldman’s challenge to himself was to “find a new palette that worked,” and in this particular case comparing the technique found in paintings of the time by Cy Twombly. The subtle changes of tint in those artworks, that layer of ‘gesso’ is something that John Snijders captures with great refinement in this recording.

The question of tempo with Triadic Memories remains open, as Feldman neglected to include a marking, only suggesting that the work should be around 90 minutes in duration. Snijders has found a speed that hits this mark very closely indeed, going further in terms of accuracy by ensuring that repeats in the original manuscript are reinstated, as many of them were left out of the first printed edition. This recording is therefore quite the ‘urtext’ interpretation.

Competitors to this recording of Triadic Memories include Steffen Schleiermacher, which I have to admit hasn’t been aired much since it turned up in 2008 for review. Sampling Aki Takahashi’s just over 60-minute 1989 version on ALM records shows where the difference in tempo used by Snijders transforms the atmosphere of the work, Takahashi making it sound almost scherzo-like in comparison. Feldman himself told her it was too fast. More recent is Marilyn Nonken on Mode Records from 2004, at around 94 minutes a little more expansive than Snijders and also spread over two discs. Nonken’s playing is beautiful but less dynamically defined than Snijders, who maintains a greater sense of shape and direction, and in doing so delivers more intellectual engagement. Sabine Liebner on Oehms Classics from 2005 manages to stretch to a metrically regular 124 minutes and risks putting us all to sleep. This again is a marvel of sustained performance and has to be considered some kind of valid approach, but in the end this particular version of Triadic Memories becomes a static vista rather than a vital work of art on a monumental scale.

John Snijders does much more than just play the notes in his recording. There are shifts in temperature and changes of mood that can make your jaw drop, and this is exactly what I would be looking for in a performance. Feldman was meticulous in his exploration of the pitches and intervals used, and the sense of refined communication is palpable here. You would instantly know if a note were misplaced or missing, and the feel of a performer entirely at one with his material is a large part of what makes this recording of Triadic Memories one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Had I been producing this album, I would have argued for placing Piano before Triadic Memories, seeing as the latter is spread over two discs in any case. The more recent work is half-pedalled throughout, ‘the new acoustic reality of a piano that never quite stops ringing’, and to my mind would have served as a release from the more intense world of its elder sibling. Piano is more sculptural than painted, the silence shaping our perception of quiet phrases that use a wide range of the keyboard, digging out gently enunciated clusters, and only lingering relatively briefly over enigmatic chords and moments of poignant beauty. Piano is more distant and enigmatic than the warmer bath of Triadic Memories. It’s the abstract and unreachable quest: the figure in a crowd that turns away after a glimpse, whose almost unconscious hand gesture of rejection is a volume that weighs heavy with a loaded past and stands as a symbol for future chapters that will forever remain unfilled. Louder chords further along in the piece emerge as surprise outbursts, the more complex chordal textures sometimes recalling orchestral works from the same period in Feldman’s career.

The two discs for this release each have their own foldout sleeve with identical notes, both kept together in a card slipcase. With very good recording quality and equally superlative performances, this is a Feldman release which will be highly desirable to fans, and a universe of discovery for newcomers.

Dominy Clements



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