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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) [79:17]
Christian Giger (cello)
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
rec. 20-21 January 2014, Konzerthaus des Abtei Marienmünster

I last came across Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field on Brilliant Classics (review) in one of those releases that split the work over two discs. This collection is still an attractive prospect, but it is nice to have this work on a single CD.

The blurb on MDG’s website describes Patterns in a Chromatic Field as “an extensive composition showing us the minimalist master’s more entertaining side”. I’m not sure how Feldman would have responded to his music being considered ‘entertaining’, but if your previous experience has been with late works such as Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello then the relatively sparkling energy with which this piece opens may take you by surprise. Marco and Giancario Simonacci on Brilliant Classics give the opening section a bounce that almost sounds jazzily syncopated at times. Their recording is drier and more closely observed by the microphones than this MDG version with Giger and Schleiermacher, though you soon become used to this natural acoustic, which gives the performance more of a concert perspective.

The piano sound is more diffuse and mid-tone rich here by comparison with the Simonacci duo, whose close-up and intimate sound is very much more one-to-one and analytical. They do have an advantage in providing reference points to certain sections in the work, and I would have welcomed this with the MDG production as a useful aspect for study. In the end it’s a matter of taste as to which sound you will prefer, though both work very well. With the Simonacci duo it is the atmosphere within the instruments themselves which carries us along, whereas with Giger/Schleiermacher we can retreat more and bathe in greater comfort – something more important with the cello than with the piano, which creates its own aura of sustain and resonance.

As Steffen Schleiermacher reminds us in his booklet notes, Patterns in a Chromatic Field comes from the same year that Morton Feldman wrote an essay entitled ‘Crippled Symmetry’, the composition of that name emerging in 1983. Woven patterns in Anatolian rugs were a fascinating subject for Feldman, and had been a part of his aesthetic since the 1970s. A relationship to these patterns can be found in this work, but as opposed to other vast Feldman scores in which there are “no motivic developments, no themes, neither linear processes nor dramatic culminations”, Patterns in a Chromatic Field explores virtuosity in performance, and through its episodic sections encourages the perception of something almost rondo-like. The piano at times punches the space with rhythmic ruggedness, at other times casting that abstract spell of timeless vistas so familiar from Feldman’s palette. The cello’s notes are often high: sometimes scribbling Steinberg lines above the piano’s skipping tread, or spooling out threads of sparing but luminous musical silk in an enhancement of its partner’s atmospheric intervals.

Whatever your thoughts on the music, this is very satisfying and musically highly refined. There is a balance to be struck between enigmatic modernity and romantic affection for an abstract tradition which is in line with both Mark Rothko’s New York and Beethoven’s Vienna, and this is beautifully struck by these musicians. If you are a Feldman fan then this will be a very satisfying addition to your collection. Feldman newbies might find an 80 minute duo for cello and piano on a single CD track more than a little daunting, but, as with his other extended works, if you allow the piece its own space and inhabit it as you would an art gallery, then you will gradually sense your cells and synapses aligning themselves to something rather special.

Dominy Clements



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