Monday, February 17, 2014

Karis plays Webern, Wolpe & Feldman: connection and context

Webern, Wolpe & Feldman
Aleck Karis, piano
Bridge Records

Atonal music -- just like tonal music -- is all about the relationships between notes. This new recording by Aleck Karis is also about relationships.

In this case, the one between three composers. Anton Webern, who distilled the essence of Schoenberg's dodecaphonic theories, taught Stephen Wolpe. Wolpe, in turn, taught Morton Feldman.

While the works presented on this album by these three men have the same overall sound, placed side-by-side one can hear the subtle differences between their compositional voices.

Webern's "variations, Op. 27" is almost epigrammatic; a concise and precise working out of 12-tone motifs. Wolpe's "Form" and "Form IV: Broken Sequences" are also short, but of a totally different character. There is an underlying lyricism in these works, which make them sound somehow warmer and less purely intellectual than Webern's work.

Morton Feldman's works are the longest in the program. "Piano" and "Palais de Mari" each run over 20 minutes. Feldman slowly and carefully builds his soundscapes. In context, one can hear how Felman's music grows out of the same theoretical basis as Webern's and Wolpe's. And one can hear how Feldman further shaped those theories to conform to his unique musical vision.

Aleck Karis performs admirably, bringing out the expressive qualities of each work. This album isn't for everyone. But if you're a fan of 20th Century music, I highly recommend this release.

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