Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
For Bunita Marcus (1985) [73:24]
Palais de Mari (1986) [26:41]
Triadic Memories (1981) [97:01]
Alfonso Gómez (piano)
rec. 10, 11 and 15 May 2021, Wolfgang-Hoffmann-Saal, Freiburg, Germany.
KAIROS 0015106KAI [3 CDs: 187:06]
This foldout package neatly brings together Morton Feldman’s three last great works for piano which, if you haven’t heard them, are as much aural and mental existential experiences as they are pieces of music. Extended and sparing but by no means devoid of content, this is the kind of music that requires a different approach both from performer and audience. The sounds occur over time, but with durations that suspend an expectation of any kind of conventional musical arc.
A good performance creates its own atmosphere, and my main reference in For Bunita Marcus has for the past few years been on the Mode label played by Aki Takahashi (review), who was Feldman’s pianist of choice. Alfonso Gómez’s pacing is comparable with that of Takahashi, and comes in at barely a minute shorter in duration. His touch, or the colour of this instrument used, is a little more steely than that of Takahashi, but still with plenty of delicious depth, beauty and resonance in the sound. The volume control needs to go a bit higher on playback for these CDs but that’s a minor detail. It’s hard to define, but Takahashi is somehow more poetic in her playing in this work. Gómez is very good, but Takahashi’s repeated patterns have an inner life that isn’t quite here to the same extent - there’s just that extra quality behind the notes that keeps me more enthralled.
Palais de Mari is at 25-plus minutes the scherzo in this collection, but is still a magnificently slowly evolving creation. Feldman’s final piano work, you can hear it as a kind of farewell, and Gómez’s performance certainly has a poignant feel to it. Steven Osbourne’s Hyperion recording of this work (review) is one I still greatly admire, but for me the laurels are more evenly distributed here than in the previous piece. Both are compellingly distilled, with Osbourne’s softness possibly even softer than Gómez’s. Aki Takahashi’s recording on the Mode Label (MOD-CD-54) is interestingly closer to 30 minutes, and Igor Levit on Sony Classical (review) is also more extended at 28:46. Which you will end up preferring is a matter of personal taste, but I have increasingly come to appreciate the more connected forward momentum of the 26-minute versions.
Alas too long to fit on a single disc, Triadic Memories is something I described as “a vast musical canvas, the notes of which are brushstrokes that build to create their own universe in the mind” when reviewing John Snijders’ recording on the HAT[NOW]ART label (review). Tempo is an open question here, but Feldman suggested a duration of around 90 minutes for the whole piece. Alfonso Gómez goes over this at 97 minutes but he by no means sounds slow. The notes are denser here than in the previous pieces, so slowness isn’t really an issue unless you are Sabine Liebner on the Oehms Classics label (OC510), coming in at a lugubrious two hours four minutes. Undue haste can also be a problem however, as shown by Steffen Schleiermacher on the MDG label (review), who comes in at an indecent 80 minutes. What then of Aki Takahashi, whose recording on ALM Records comes in at 61:18? As mentioned earlier, the atmosphere created is an essential element in any performance and each recording has its own qualities which may speak to you to a greater or lesser extent. Alfonso Gómez is very, very good indeed in this recording as indeed he is elsewhere, acting as a vessel for Feldman’s pages rather than seeking to add artificial eloquence.
As you can see, there are plenty of places to shop around for all of these pieces, but having them all together in this nicely produced Kairos set is very attractive, and I can guarantee that the recording and performances will not disappoint even the most hard-bitten Feldman collector. The thought provoking but eclectic and essentially subjective booklet notes by Johannes Schöllhorn end with an inelegantly translated but well-meant sentiment, that this is “a music that can be contemplated in beautiful tranquility and by us together with our ears, and it is a music in which we may wonderfully lose ourselves.”