wed 24/07/2024

Feldman's Triadic Memories, Melnikov, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Feldman's Triadic Memories, Melnikov, Wigmore Hall

Feldman's Triadic Memories, Melnikov, Wigmore Hall

An absorbing encounter with a late masterpiece

Alexander Melnikov: first public encounter with Triadic MemoriesMarco Borggreve

Morton Feldman and Robert Schumann don’t often appear in the same sentence, but in his brief platform introduction Alexander Melnikov perceptively located common ground: they are two of the greatest writers on music, both for their polemical intent and their vivid imagery. It can be hard to avoid analogy and metaphor when discussing Feldman’s music, but why bother trying?

The composer himself wrote of Triadic Memories (1981) that “Chords are heard without any discernible pattern. In this regularity there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin – where all the buildings look identical, even if they’re not.”

Melnikov went on to reminisce about how he’d first encountered this music “a little intoxicated, while in the middle of studying late Scriabin”, and indeed what his touch traced was a luminous way of voicing chords to pick out melodies across long spans that did sound like the continuation of, say, Vers la flamme or the brief Poems which are hardly more than notes on a line. Such continuity was in itself disorienting. Feldman tends to sound like no-one else at all, whereas the rocking rhythm of the first 10 minutes, and Melnikov’s handling of decay on the Wigmore’s beautifully conditioned Steinway, did bring to mind the counterpoint of Webern or even Bach stripped back and slowed down.

The bass will disappear for a minute or five then steal back in like an uncle at a party who keeps popping out for a tabSoon, however, the notes thinned out, the rate of change settled down, and dissonant falls were softly tucked in like the underbelly fur of a creature at rest (you can reach out and stroke the chords at a good Feldman performance, the way you never can on recordings). To talk of the 90-minute duration and dynamic levels between ppp and ppppp is just data. The experience rewards the listening ear with a sequence of those perceptions experienced halfway to sleep with total clarity, but now replayed until the memory of their details is not lost but blurred into the kind of impasto found on Rothko’s Black on Maroon over the river at the Tate.  

When, rarely, up to four keys are depressed at a time, clouds of dissonance gather, and then the notes fall one by one but from a distance like the rain seen far out to sea: south-east 4 or 5, slight or moderate, mainly fair. Chords will alternate for a while, one taking the upper hand then the other. A note stands alone for a while, dying away differently each time, a supreme test of Melnikov’s pedalling. The bass will disappear for a minute or five then steal back in like an uncle at a party who keeps popping out for a tab. The chords above carry on, discreetly pretending they didn’t know he was there and didn’t see him return.

Most of all there are the triads of the title, spaced over octaves and stress-tested to oblivion. The third is usually the weakest link in a 1-3-5 triad, but Feldman returns again and again to the pieces of a diminished version, where the flat fifth divides the octave and wanders mid-pitch, placing it in a dependent relationship to the minor third. Or a sequence will run 1-3-6 and then sigh back on to the dominant, written as if to neutralise the stereotypes embodied by musical terminology: there’s nothing dominant about these fifths.

Melnikov sat very still throughout, though counted with his hands towards the close, which arrived abruptly as it tends to with Feldman, whose pieces begin and end in the middle. He got up quite quickly, as though the silence was already written into the piece, leaving in the air a sadness that echoed with the composer’s aesthetic, “When something is beautiful it is tragic. And I think the implication for me as I see it is that something beautiful has to be made in isolation. And tragedy in a sense is a kind of psychic flavour of this loneliness.”

To talk of the 90-minute duration and dynamic levels between ppp and ppppp is just data


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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