Feldman, Wolpe

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COMPOSERS: Feldman,Wolpe
LABELS: New World
WORKS: For Stefan Wolpe; Christian Wolff in Cambridge; Chorus and Instruments II
PERFORMER: Choir of St Ignatius of Antioch, New York/Harold Chaney; Benjamin Ramirez, Thomas Kolor (percussion), Stephen Foreman (tuba)
Hard to believe the young Feldman studied for several years with Stefan Wolpe, their musics on this CD sound so different. It was Wolpe too who introduced Feldman to the Abstract Expressionist painting that later became an aesthetic model for much of his music. Wolpe, a Jewish Marxist from Berlin, had fled from the Nazis in 1933, moving first to Vienna (where he studied with Webern), then to Palestine and finally, in 1938, to the USA. Though acknowledged as an influential teacher in the States, his music remains little-known. The two works here uphold his political allegiances. Two Chinese Epitaphs (1937), a mêlée of jagged phrases, is a brief, angry protest sparked by the bombing of Guernica; the Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus (1955) celebrate the new state of Israel with restless energy and sometimes rhapsodic affirmation.


Feldman’s music, in contrast, is purely abstract, eschewing all conventional notions of form and expression. The 30-minute For Stefan Wolpe, a late work from 1986, alternates choral and instrumental passages, softly hummed chords and a murmur of vibraphones. It’s ethereal music – subtly-shifting colours that shimmer and hover on the brink of silence – but it’s also remarkably beautiful. New World’s documentation is, as so often, exemplary. Graham Lock