The intense individuality of Morton Feldman’s (1926–1987) art and its “painterly” aspect have tended to push his rich output of works into a zone all of their own, surrounded by a moat of stillness. This recording attempts the reverse process—to bring his choral works (the previously unrecorded Chorus and Instruments, Voices and Instruments 1, Voices and Instruments 2, The Swallows of Salangan) into a “gallery” of other choir compositions of his times. Through the interaction with works of other characters and aspirations, mutual illumination might become a new Feldman experience.
Two of the five other works confront Feldman’s textless choral singing with words. These, however, carry their own special musical intent. Three early twelve-tone gems [Three Statements] of Will Ogdon (1921–2013) move with Walt Whitman “into the wordless . . . away from books, away from art,” and reluctantly away from human desire, as embodied in the central poem by Thomas Campion. Robert Carl’s (b. 1954) The City brings a transcendentalist layered sound to the mystical reflections of the architect Louis Sullivan, contemplating the natural and the built-human in the lake and city of Chicago.
The notion of wordless chorus fans out in varied directions in the other three works. As one of Feldman’s closest associates in the New York School, Earle Brown (1926–2002) intrigues us as much for the stark differences from Feldman shown by his abstract choral mobiles (Small Pieces for Large Chorus). The Sound Patterns of Pauline Oliveros (1932–2016) are less abstract than their title might imply—moving in and out of singing itself into extended vocality, and towards newly-suggested verbal exclamations of a non-semantic kind. Warren Burt (b. 1949), a former student of both Oliveros and Ogdon at the University of California, San Diego, contributes with his Elegy the most recent piece, also the closest to Feldman’s simple successions of chorale-like chords. His harmonies, however, acquire their elegiac qualities from chromatic memories and their contradictions, moving along unfamiliar paths.