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Steven Osborne performs works for Piano by Crumb and Feldman

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Crumb,Feldman
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Crumb • Feldman
WORKS: Feldman: Intermission; Piano Pieces 1952; Extensions 3; Palais de Mari; Crumb: Processional; A Little Suite for Christmas, AD 1979
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68108

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Steven Osborne’s previous successful recordings of late Stravinsky and Messiaen have arguably been good preparation for both Feldman and Crumb. Still, at first blush, this seems a rather odd combination. While both are American composers who established themselves more or less in the same decades of the late 20th century, there are some striking differences. George Crumb is very much about programmatic titles, his music heavily laden with associations – including quotations from well-established works (A Little Suite for Christmas, for instance, quotes the Coventry Carol of 1591) – and often requiring a degree of virtuosity; whereas Morton Feldman is a rather unconventional minimalist, whose mature works generally are not about virtuosity, nor intended to illustrate anything (though he was inspired by the technique of abstract painters such as Pollock and Kline), but rather are all about their own, unhurried processes.

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To a degree, Feldman’s Palais de Mari, his final piano piece, is an exception to this, inspired as it was by the imperfect symmetries of the ancient ruined Babylonian Palace of Mari. Significantly this 25-minute work – which Osborne has admitted was his introduction to Feldman’s music – is ‘top of the bill’ for this recital: its sonic beauty and extra-musical association certainly suggests common ground with Crumb. Yet the essential differences in style remain: even their harmonic worlds appear complementary, Feldman’s recalling the chiming chords of Schoenberg’s piano piece Sehr langsam, while Crumb’s mingling of bell and gamelan-like sounds is more akin to Debussy. Osborne fully demonstrates his versatility in revealing the colours of Crumb, and in the zen-like patience with which he unfolds each of Feldman’s works.

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Daniel Jaffé