FELDMAN For Christian Wolff • Dorothy Stone (fl); Vicki Ray (pn, cel) • BRIDGE 9279 (3 CDs: 177:14)
Imagine a long, narrow hallway with paintings—subtle, shimmering abstracts by Mark Rothko—hung along both walls. Imagine walking through the hallway, stopping to examine one painting closely before moving on to the next. Imagine the hallway extends forRead more three miles without an exit. This should give you some idea of what listening to For Christian Wolff is like. What might be hell to some people could be an all-too-brief time spent in paradise for others.
The music is deceptively easy to describe, although any description will inevitably fall woefully short of the actual effect that takes place in the mind during the experience of listening—and that has a lot to do with Feldman’s method, and his reasoning. Simply put, as with For Bunita Marcus (also reviewed in this issue) and other late-period Feldman scores, it’s impossible to follow the details over such an expanse of time, to recognize shape, or structure (sections of exposition-and-development, or repeated or varied episodes), so Feldman doesn’t bother with them. The linear presentation of sounds—solitary flute tones, stepwise progressions, and unexpected interval leaps, with parallel piano and celesta movement—aren’t determined by a system, but by Feldman’s intuition, and ear. The instruments sometimes jostle but in demure ways; they may seem to nudge, mimic, or shadow each other, compare microtonal differences of pitch, or harmlessly coexist in the same spatial environment, but the level of intensity and pace are unchanging throughout. The sounds hover, resonate, decay, and are replaced by the next sounds. And so on and so on. This, on Feldman’s terms, was to let the sounds “exist in themselves,” and so he didn’t attempt to compose the music in conventional ways, but rather assemble it according to his own preferences. I suppose this attitude will rub some people the wrong way, those who feel music requires a particular type of continuity, of organization. These same people often pontificate on which manner of musical organization is suitable for public consumption, and which is not. How strange.
This performance, recorded in 2005, was unreleased until now. Flutist Dorothy Stone passed away in March of 2008, age 49. Her sustained concentration, care, and commitment are audible throughout. Keyboardist Vicki Ray is a perfectly compatible partner. Their interpretation, although taken at a faster pace than the Eberhard Blum/Nils Vigeland performance on hat(now)Art, expresses the charm of moderation and restraint, and does Feldman proud. Take your time, and enjoy the view along the way.
FANFARE: Art Lange
It may be a cliché to say so, but this really is a disc for people who like this sort of thing. For my money, For Christian Wolf, with its scoring for flute and piano (doubling celesta) isn't quite as interesting as some of Feldman's more timbrally varied late works (Crippled Symmetry, for example) that include a third player on mallet instruments, but anyone ready to take in three hours of slowly changing atonal, athematic sound patterns at a consistently low dynamic level probably won't be complaining much. Certainly the performance here is beautifully paced and admirably precise. Ideally, the players should "lose themselves" in the music to the point where, as listeners, we aren't conscious of the mechanics of performing at all, and that's just what the team of Stone and Ray achieve. They are recorded at a very high level, which means the volume needs to be turned down when listening. I know it's probably heretical to say so, but I find Feldman's late works to be the best cure for insomnia ever invented. Play this late at night, close your eyes, and drift. If sleep ensues, don't feel guilty in the least.