Feldman: For Frank O’Hara; Bass Clarinet and Percussion; De Kooning; Instruments I

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WORKS: For Frank O’Hara; Bass Clarinet and Percussion; De Kooning; Instruments I
PERFORMER: New Millennium Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7466-2
Morton Feldman admired his friend Frank O’Hara for writing poetry that ‘dispenses with everything… but his feelings’. Given the placid surfaces of Feldman’s music, this emphasis on feeling may seem curious but, as the critic Kyle Gann has noted, it was Feldman who reaffirmed the value of intuition when his new music colleagues became obsessed with systems in the Sixties. For Frank O’Hara (1973), Feldman’s tribute to the poet, who had died in a bizarre accident in 1966, can certainly be heard as threnody, though its depth of feeling is totally bereft of emotional display – the solitary drum roll, as sudden and shocking as death itself, the darkening timbres that hint at grief, a tiny bell briefly tolling.


The New Millennium Ensemble doesn’t always focus on the nuances of Feldman’s music with the precision required. It hurries slightly; sounds nudge where they should caress; changes of dynamic are too brusque for the composer’s subtle colorations. The dark, delicate Bass Clarinet and Percussion (1981), to which they impart a wholly inappropriate nagging insistence, is the major casualty. By contrast, the Barton Workshop (on its fine three-CD Feldman set The Ecstasy of the Moment) captures perfectly its hushed, crepuscular magic. Graham Lock