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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
For Bunita Marcus (1985)
Aki Takahashi (piano)
rec. 2007, Teldex Studio, Berlin.
MODE 314 [74:18]

For Bunita Marcus is one of those late-period works by Morton Feldman that takes us on an immersive journey “through different mental and musical states, requiring a particular kind of attentiveness.” The music is quiet and slow to unfold, but is by no means uneventful. Patterns emerge and create different atmospheres. Silence, notes and the relationships between notes and the different registers of the piano take on changing significance as we are suspended in time, or made aware of its infinite progress.

Aki Takahashi has a special relationship with Feldman and this piece in particular. The cover photo shows her with Bunita Marcus and the composer at the world premiere in Middelburg in 1985. Feldman had already written Triadic Memories for Takahashi and Roger Woodward, and he described her performances as being “like a séance”. Her playing had a significant effect on his last works, resulting in Piano and String Quartet, and this connection makes this recording a significant one. Looking at the recording date you might wonder if this is a re-release, but no, this is its first commercial appearance.

There is something magical about this recording. It certainly kept me enthralled for its entire duration, but as with all such recordings it has to be given its due time and space. The final minutes are truly majestic. There are of course a few competitors. Marc-André Hamelin’s recording on Hyperion was admired on these pages by Jonathan Woolf (review). There are other decent recordings such as Ivan Ilić on the Paraty label, Hildegard Kleeb with the premiere recording on HatHut, Satoko Inoue on ALM records, Stephane Ginsburgh on the Sub Rosa label, and Oehms Classics has Sabine Liebner, though this is unfortunately spread over two discs and at just over 88 minutes is too slow for comfort.

Returning to Takahashi each time and you can soon hear why Feldman was so attracted to her playing. The notes have a pearlescent shimmer, and there’s a poetry in the interpretation that is less in evidence in most of the alternatives. The piano sound is good, the instrument not recorded too closely so that there is some acoustic space to allow that elusive lyricism in the score to float in the air. James Pritchett’s booklet notes for this release elaborate on Feldman’s admiration for Takahashi, and conclude: “Listening to this recording of For Bunita Marcus, we too can be pulled into Aki Takahashi’s séance, into the hushed pianistic world of Morton Feldman, and feel a similar sense of gratitude for her concentrated artistry.”

Dominy Clements

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