The recital begins with Stefan Wolpe’s Form (1949). In just three and a half minutes, the ear is beguiled/assaulted with striking contrasts in texture, tone, range and emotion—even a few “inside the piano pizzicati”. It bears repeated listenings to read between the sudden lines and declamations. Pianist Aleck Karis proves to be a worthy advocate.
Hearing Morton Feldman’s 1977 masterpiece, Piano, on the same day as grain is finally moving out of Ukraine—hopefully safely—to feed anxious, hungry mouths around the world, shows his foresight in creating meticulously conceived soundscapes that offer more hope for future generations in this increasingly ugly world more than 45 years ago.
In many ways, it’s a study in colour and ambiguous rhythms that encourages the listener to just savour the textures, tones, ranges and dynamics and leave the musicologists and music students amongst us to unravel the compositional techniques. It might have also been subtitled “No rests for the weary” due to the continuous swells of unrelenting waves of sound without a breath—Haydn would surely have been puzzled.
Karis ably fires on all cylinders, moving forward with confidence, even as he interweaves pre-recorded interventions when Morton calls for two or three pianos simultaneously.
Like a salve on a festering wound, Piano will pay repeated dividends with every hearing.
In just five minutes, Wolpe’s Form IV: Broken Sequences more than lives up to its name. Here’s an aural buffet of varying surfaces, hues, hesitatos, introspection, jazzy snippets, brief rhapsodic declamations, and bitter/sweet thoughts where the only rule is “nothing remains the same.”
Karis is more up to the challenges, making all things “broken” convincingly coalesce.
From the singular mind of Anton Webern, the master of saying volumes in seemingly mere seconds—perhaps the antithesis of Anton Bruckner—comes Variations Op. 27 (1936). These three miniatures have much to say about the human experience. When written, war was most certainly on the horizon. Heard today, massive, deadly conflict is here.
Sehr mässig (moderato) searches through the registers—forward, backwards as if in a discussion where both parties are approaching agreement/understanding but are at a loss for words.
Sehr schnell (fast) is a rambunctious “catch me if you can” (and a tonic to what comes before and after). Karis captures all.
Ruhig fliessend (peacefully flowing) is a poignant study in uncertainty—just as valuable to listeners then as to all those who choose to hear its truth now.
This remarkable disc concludes with Morton Feldman’s solo piano swan song, Palais de Mari (Husband’s Palace). In a word: mesmerizing.
At once, the notion of a prolonged search (truth, love, acceptance…the listener can decide) with several “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” moments, should appeal to anyone who has faced anxiety in life.
The wee cantus firmus, making several appearances but never truly resolving itself, deftly serves as a soundpost while the near constantly changing times signatures (save and except for a marvellous extended 2/2 chorale-like intervention) add much to the notion of “Where are we really?”
A masterstroke is morphing the multitude of grace notes into more lyrical declamations of “next”—in an intriguing depiction of musical slow motion.
Karis proves to be a faithful advocate of Feldman’s intentions and, accordingly, a master of quiet understatement. JWR