NEW RELEASE Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (God)
Lenio Liatsou follows Feldman's exacting metrical intricacies and subtly shifting balance between sound and silence with an almost selfless dedication.
Often I wonder whether the unstoppable rise of Morton Feldman would have been possible without the CD. Pieces that run in unbroken stretches, often over hours, don’t find vinyl especially favourable to their cause, where the act of flipping the record over, and the mechanics of the needle re-engaging with the spinning grooves, imposes a narrative from outside the music. Vinyl is good for a pop song; good too for a Bruckner symphony with its neat divisions into movements. But Feldman lives or dies by how his music’s uncoiling, elaborating structures sustain themselves over time.
This new release – on vinyl – of Feldman’s 1985 solo piano For Bunita Marcus on the GOD Records label, performed by Lenio Liatsou, challenges us to think again about Feldman and format. With the boutique modern composition label Mode taking the trouble to issue alternate audio-only DVD versions (and in 24-bit stereo with an option to listen in surround sound) of Feldman’s extended-duration pieces, a return to vinyl could feel like gas lighting is about to make a comeback; but clear advantages present themselves. That steady stopwatch timer on a CD player counts down in everyday minutes and seconds; and pausing a CD when the time comes to take a tea break is another distraction. Vinyl commands your undivided attention.
And Lenio Liatsou’s performance is not to be missed. She cruises through Feldman’s labyrinthine grid at a steady tempo, certainly compared to Hildegard Kleeb’s classic 1990 performance, administering the sustain pedal sparingly, responsibility resting on the touch of finger against keyboard to carry the music’s inherent softness rather than relying on washes of ambient pedal. Vinyl brings an unfussy clarity; those occasional spiky fanfares Feldman embeds as structural markers register as hardcore shocks. When the spell is broken by needing to turn the records over, yes, it’s a nuisance; but there are considerable gains, too.
Gramophone, March 2015
So, this is something of an event, though unfortunately afflicted by a bit of bad timing as the piece's dedicatee has in recent months made public allegations about abuse at the hands of the composer. Still, one attempts to listen with open ears. On a personal level, for what it's worth, it's the first time I've ever heard Feldman's music on LP having come to it myself near the beginning of the CD era when, in fact, after his death, there was a boom in the number of releases of his music, partly as the CD format better fitted his longer works. Here, in a performance by Lenio Liatsou, "For Bunita Marcus" takes up three sides of the 2LP set, the fourth left blank. Moreover, it's one of my favorite pieces of music, period and the subject of one of my very favorite recordings, that done by John Tilbury on his London Hall set. So, how to listen afresh?
First, I should say that this is a beautiful recording, something that any fan of the piece, or of Feldman, should hear. Even if I were capable, in my memory, of doing side by side comparisons with other interpretations I've heard (I think I have five or six), which I'm not, I don't know that it would be worthwhile. I can say that, as a general impression, Liatsou has a somewhat more clipped approach than, say, Tilbury, and perhaps takes the music a little faster (I haven't timed the piece and n timings are included). This is something I might have thought I'd object to but I find that this approach works perfectly well here, perhaps due in part to the kind of sound she evokes from the piano which, for me, is very bell-like, almost a subtle carillon effect which, knowing Feldman's love of high register percussion like celestas, seems entirely appropriate. This occurs particularly in the more rapid, higher-pitched clusters with perhaps the consequence that there's less of the extremely subtle variation of duration that one hears in Tilbury. While I might prefer the latter, there's truly nothing to complain about, it's a gorgeous rendition and a fine addition to the canon. Do I mind, just a little, having to get up and flip or switch platters twice during the piece? Yes, but it's a small price to pay. The sleeve also contains an excellent explanatory essay of the work by Sebastian Claren, including remarks from the composer I'd never before read. Mandatory listening for all admirers of the music.
Brian Olewnick, 13/2/2015
An incredibly beautiful and poised recording of one of Morton Feldman's lesser known later works. Each note feels like it's there for a secret purpose, known only to Lenio Liatsou, the pianist performing it here, who whispers it back to you in all the intimacy and warmth of vinyl. Superb sound.
Ian Parsons, 18/1/2015
Is Lenio Liatsou playing the piano, or tilting it back and forth until notes tumble out? The piano pitches come one at a time in a methodical drip, overlapping eachother through dimming trails of sustain. Each note bounces off the last at a precise and beautiful angle, timed so that the music advances and stalls with a very deliberate sort of limping syncopation; Feldman meddles with my idea of asserted musical direction and compositional symmetry, casting shapes that, in spite of their angular turns and anxious silences, somehow feel fateful and classically beautiful. It’s a bit like looking at the constellational formations formed by stars – even as the lines deviate at weird angles, there is an endurance and an exactitude to the placement of each glimmering dot.
In lesser hands the music would move in a series of jerks, pushing through the resistance of stiffened limbs to edge ever further forward. Yet the elegance of For Bunita Marcus is irrefutable. It circumvents its own body weight so that the momentum remains replenished and constant, counter-balancing each of the lower notes with occasional strange, alluring pings in the higher registers. The composition avoids the more declarative anchorage of thevery low keys – movements are instigated by swivels of the lower torso rather than by foot placement, retaining a smooth and rotational motion that could easily continue far, far beyond its own 80-minutes. It’s a beautiful and somewhat ethereal domino cascade, reconfiguring gravity and causality to suit its own unique method of advancement.
ATTN Magazine, 18/2/2015