Thursday, February 26, 2009
Morton Feldman/Howard Skempton - Triadic Memories/Notti stellate di Vagli (Atopos)
What can one say? I was looking into some analysis of "Triadic Memories" and came across this, from Jean-Luc Fafchamps in 1990:
These few notes, set in the extreme registers of the piano, define at one and the same time the ambitus - or melodic compass of the piece, its hesitating rhythm, and the intervals in the bass which will generate by successive developments and simplifications all the harmonic and melodic states of the work. All these material modifications (the changes in tessitura, the ever increasing number of superpositions of intervals, the aggregation of chords, the focalization, the sketching of melodic forms, etc...) are effected almost imperceptibly by means of varied repetitions, so that, in principle, the exhaustion by iteration of one state of matter gives birth to the next.
As with other renditions of Feldman by Tilbury in which repetition is a foregrounded element, most notably of course this piece and "For Bunita Marcus" as represented in his massive "All Piano", I find myself most struck by two facets of his playing that verge on the superhuman. One, his incredibly subtle variation of tempo in "repeated" figures and second, the possibly even more subtle variation of touch in those same passages. Feldman lays the groundwork to ease this approach, perhaps, by his moment to moment writing style, each set of notes (or individual note) being heard only in relation to those immediately preceding them (while at the same time, to be sure, serving as a building block of a vast tapestry, á la his highly regarded Turkish rugs). So, I assume, one's immediate memory of the spaces between, say, four notes, from several seconds ago remains fresh, more easily adapted. Add to that the memory of keyboard pressure and you begin to enter poetry territory. And of course, it's one thing to just vary matters slightly, another to vary them in a way that's somehow heartbreaking, thrilling, ecstatic, serene, etc.
Listening here to "Triadic Memories", 104 minutes of unfurled, extraordinarily beautiful carpet, I'm just in almost perpetual shock at how deftly, how caringly, how precisely and with what passion Tilbury weaves his spell. One almost forgets Feldman! Which is ridiculous but also a signal of how he and Tilbury meld so completely. As a composition, I actually prefer "For Bunita Marcus" and agree with Rowe that Tilbury's performance of it on "All Piano" is one of the high water marks of the 20th century. But this one isn't so far off, imho. I might add that I love the audible pedal pressings as well; they impart a frisson of the solid to such ethereal music. For what it's worth, I didn't detect any overt slowing of pace from his prior recording, though it must be there; there's no drag whatsoever.
If one must carp, I could imagine the recording sounding somewhat fuller. Splitting the piece is unavoidable in the CD format; I'd love a DVD of the event. But these pale beside the performance itself, one of extreme grace and depth.
One tends to forget the Skempton work! It's rather nice, single notes played somberly, having something of a drifting down quality, the "notti" of its title nudging one down dark corridors. There's almost a chorale-like sense to it and I think I'd rather have had it placed first in the recording, the way I believe it was at the concert (Richard or Alastair, please chime in).
But the Feldman I'll be playing and replaying for quite some time.
Available stateside, while supplies last, at erstdist