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An offbeat approach to two important Feldman piano worksOct. 12 2014
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I was happy to approach this offering from my philosophy of "the more Feldman the better". Ronnie Lynn Patterson is an unfamiliar name to me, but he seems to spend most of his time in France, was a percussionist before he was a pianist, and has performed improvisational as well as notated music. Here he takes on Feldman's two medium-length solo piano pieces. I find the results a little mixed.
Like most Feldman compositions, Piano, from 1977, is very slow, pitch-oriented, atonal and non-metered (by ear, though not by eye). Its language is similar to many other atonal postmodern piano works, like Cage's Music of Changes, Stockhausen's Klavierstück VI and Boulez's Second Piano Sonata. But while those reference works are dynamically and texturally varied, Feldman's piece is consistently soft and homophonic, consisting almost entirely of single notes and chords, with an occasional arpeggio or loud chord added for variety. There's some durational differentiation: certain chords are short, others are sustained, and in several cases, each hand has a different sustaining value. Or at least it's supposed to work that way. Patterson regrettably ignores most of Feldman's scrupulous durational directions, sustaining chords indiscriminately even where Feldman has differentiated between short and long values. Several times Feldman asks for a simultaneously-struck chord to be short in the left hand but sustained in the right hand, whereas Patterson sustains the notes in both hands. The result is a monotonous, mechanical delivery of a piece that should show more rhythmic vitality, as evinced by the recordings by John Tilbury and Marianne Schroeder.
There are some other issues. The recording includes some extraneous shuffling and damper noise, suggesting that the piano was miked too closely. This might not distract you if you follow Feldman's imploration to listen at a very soft volume level. Patterson's tempo is slow: he takes 40 minutes to traverse the piece whereas Tilbury and Schroeder clock in at 29 minutes. Again, this might not bother you terribly. More jarring is the staccato tritone in the right hand at 5:22 that's supposed to be a (sustained) half-note tuplet. This is a pretty obvious "wrong note".
Palais de Mari fares better. There are still inaccuracies in rendering Feldman's complex rhythms, and Patterson takes the piece at roughly half Feldman's specified tempo. But here the result isn't disruptive since the composition itself is more reliably single-line in effect. The key motive is the A♭, F, D#, E theme that opens the work, and which returns in bar 74 and 172 as a kind of ritornello. A less specific, but more pervasive, idea is the rhythmic figure of a grace note pickup to a widely-spread dyad or chord. Feldman spins most of the work out of these two ideas.
Patterson's interpretation of Palais lacks a sense of durational phrasing, but perhaps offers a cherished nuance of sound that's less pronounced in the more conventional recordings by Tilbury or Schroeder. Occasionally the sloppiness detracts, as in measure 66, where there's another case of a chord where the left hand should release immediately while the right hand sustains (Patterson sustains both hands). Still, this is a pleasant listen that might intrigue a convinced Feldman fan who's already acquainted with this music.