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Morton Feldman's early and unknown piano works -
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'... a performance of power and commitment ...'

Morton Feldman: Early & Unknown Piano Works. Debora Petrina. © 2003 OgreOgress Productions

Morton Feldman is known for works which are, in their way, even more 'minimalist' than the Minimalists; spare, honed down pieces which at times introduce the element of chance in the licence they offer performers; and also for his connection with the world of the visual arts. There are pieces dedicated to the Abstract Expressionists Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, as well as his famous Rothko Chapel. What we are offered here, however, is a chance to hear how that music emerged, in particular by being able to compare his First Piano Sonata, written when Feldman was just seventeen, with the later Two Pieces for Three Pianos. In between are short items, brevity often in the company of a kind of throwaway wit.

The First Piano Sonata, and in fact the only one, is dedicated to Bartók. Unpublished, the manuscript comes from the vaults of the Paul Sacher archives, and here pianist Debora Petrina gives it its first airing. It is a fascinating piece, confident and accomplished, clearly owing style and mood to its dedicatee, and yet already following some odd paths of its own. Immediately apparent is the swiftness with which one idea is announced, explored and then moved away from [listen -- track 1, 0:01-1:59]. Within the first two minutes alone, the bravura percussive opening gives way to a passage of great lyricism which, in turn, is broken with an urgent flurry of notes. And already one can hear some of the devices which the composer would later exploit to such effect: the holding of one note, for example, which as it fades, creates an unlikely elision with the next; the first explorations of the effects of sympathetic resonance to extend what the listener hears well beyond the actual notes played; and the contrast between massive, chunky chords and extended patches of silence. Petrina offers a performance of power and commitment which recognises that this is more than interesting juvenilia. It would be good to think the First Piano Sonata might find its way onto the concert platform too.

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Copyright © 28 February 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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