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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) [79:42]
Mathis Mayr (cello)
Antonis Anissegos (piano)
rec. 2016, Hertz-Lab, ZKM Center for Arts and Music, Karlsruhe
WERGO WER73822 [79:42]

You might be forgiven for thinking, ‘hey, what’s going on here’ with Patterns in a Chromatic Field. The duration is something to be expected from a late work by Morton Feldman, but the sheer amount of activity and rhythmic intensity is a surprise if you’ve become attuned to the restraint of a piece such as Piano and String Quartet. There is always contrast of a kind in a Feldman piece, no matter how landscape-like the vistas, but Patterns is full of relative extremes.

Meghann Wilhoite’s booklet notes give some analysis of the work, pointing out time references over the recording as a whole. These are however not useful as the performance has been split into seven separate tracks, so you have to get your calculator out if you want to find the points to which she is referring. There are pattern repetitions and variations, and patterns re-emerging between extended periods of other material to remind us of themselves – the whole being something that “explores the limits of memory.” Not all of the music is energetic by any means of course, and the extended sections of repose have that special Feldman quality of quasi-everything: quiet but not silent, intense but enigmatic and abstract, always moving towards some kind of resolution but always pushing those boundaries of expectation that have become engrained into our minds since Medieval times.

Mention is made of the recording quality in the booklet. The listener is placed close to the instruments, giving the performance an intimate quality without being too dry with regard to acoustic and ‘air’. One comparison can be found on the Brilliant Classics label (review), in a good performance with cellist Marco Simonacci and pianist Giancarlo Simonacci. This is a touch less natural sounding, with the instruments even closer than with the Wergo recording. Both work well enough, but I like the touch of extra perspective in the latter. Other recordings include Christian Giger and Steffen Schleiermacher on MDG (review), who are more distant again when compared to this Wergo recording. This is an atmospheric balance, but Patterns in a Chromatic Field does seem to demand more closeness. The music is not comfortable, and a pleasant swimming-pool acoustic doesn’t quite do it justice in the end. This said, it would appear to be a work that has been fortunate in its recordings – there are no bad ones as far as I can tell. Mathis Mayr and Antonis Anissegos strike a good balance between suspension of time and discomforting generation of mystery that is essential to late Feldman, as well as standing up superbly to the detailed recording balance. You can have this version as your desert-island choice with no fear of missing out elsewhere.

Dominy Clements

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