on 30 April 2009
A few years ago I was searching around for a decent recording of one of Morton Feldman's most accessible works - Rothko Chapel - a piece lasting around 25 minutes for chamber choir, voila, celeste and other percussion instruments. After listening to two other recordings (including the South West German Vocal Ensemble, directed by Rupert Huber - a terrible recording with some distracting background noises like opening doors and footsteps!) I decided that this recording was the best. It's a highly detailed recording which allows the listener to hear every nuance (a very important aspect regarding many of Feldman's works).
Rothko Chapel is coupled with Feldman's work Why Patterns? for Flute, Glockenspiel and Piano - a work which is not as accessible as Rothko Chapel but brilliant nonetheless. Overall, it is one of my favourite Morton Feldman recordings to date. Look no further for an excellent recording of Rothko Chapel.
on 16 July 2012
A beautiful recording of this subtle, other-worldly music. This music invites you (or perhaps requires you) to immerse yourself in it, removing all distractions to bathe in the subtle sonorities. The minimal instrumentation: soprano, alto, mixed choir, celeste, viola and percussion creates a spacious slowly shifting soundscape. If you can create the space for this music, your time and attention will be rewarded.
The beauty of reviews and mp3 downloads is that they allow you to pick and choose which tracks you can download. The other reviews warned me off the coupling to "Rothko Chapel" so I simply downloaded the five tracks of "Rothko Chapel". It still works out at value for money, costing less than the full album download. "Why Patterns", therefore, doesn't get reviewed here but, on reflection, it's tougher nature might make for a more rewarding experience - it seems other reviewers don't think so.
Feldman's work amounts to a contemplative, expressive form of minimalism; often covering long time frames. If that sounds like a marathon then "Rothko Chapel" at twenty five minutes or so makes a gentle and accessible introduction to his music. I can't fault the performance or the recording, which are clear and well defined. The music itself is less chromatic than many of Feldman's works but the modal viola melody in the concluding section still comes as a surprise - sounding somewhere between Bloch and Vaughan Williams.
The work was written to accompany the opening of the Chapel and duly did so but by then Rothko himself had committed suicide. It must be tempting, therefore, to see this as an elegy to Mark Rothko rather than contemplation on the works in the Chapel. The title doesn't call it an elegy or "in memoriam"; it is specifically called "Rothko Chapel". Therein lies the problem: if you see the music as an elegy it works very well but as a contemplation of Rothko's sublime masterpiece it has an impossible job. Perhaps the concluding viola melody is the elegy attached to the work after the contemmplation of the Chapel.
Not for the first time the way you listen to a work is driven by the context it is taken in. "Rothko Chapel" is a beautiful work, worthy of four stars with or without the back story; a finely controlled, balanced, easy to follow and overtly beautiful contemplation but if Rothko's paintings gets five stars then Feldman's work stands a little below that: Still highly recommended and enjoyable for all that.
on 9 April 2013
If you want experiment with your musical tastes, try something original and confronting then this work is for you. Morton Feldman is an unique voice in the field of music and this piece is one of his foremost. This is no easy listen and should not be heard with a cloud of prejudgements and predjudices. If you are willing to suspend what you might expect music to be and immerse yourself in Feldman's sound world then this work will reward you with a moving experience, just let yourself go, listen and see where it takes you.
Feldman was one of the New York School of modern composers, and is now largely known from his association with John Cage. While Cage used random methods, Feldman deliberately composed his sparse soundscapes.
The New York School was closely associated with visual artists such as Rothko, so this is an appropriate theme for these pieces. The Rothko pieces are sparse and serene, stripped of much that we would associate with music, such as harmony, melody or even any rhythm. Possibly closer to noise than music, they are clear precursors to ambient music, but must have been hugely challenging to compose to avoid the musicians seeking to impose some melody or rhythm onto them.
Personally I found Why Patterns? more gripping than the Rothko pieces, it has more urgency, a slightly less serene soundscape.
This sort of stuff is not for everyone, but relatively speaking these are accessible and engaging pieces.