All roads on this Hyperion release lead to Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari, and include music by his near-contemporary George Crumb. Both composers (born 1926 and 1929 respectively) are explorers, and they are consummately served by Steven Osborne.
Sound and silence, attack and decay, inform a lot of the pieces here, beginning with Feldman’s Intermission 5 (1952), short and stark with bell-like sonorities tolling its demise, if with similar tones informing the same-year Piano Piece; it’s amazing how single notes in uniform rhythm can be so magnetic. This hat-trick of Feldman miniatures from 1952 is completed by Extensions 3: another exercise, if differently patterned, in how to obtain much from so little.
Separating the first two Feldman vignettes is Crumb’s Processional (1983), a glowing creation that has likeness to Debussy. Over its ten-minute course the dynamism of the music really holds the listener enthralled in its pulses and swells, its undertow and stellar brightness. Chiming also informs Crumb’s A Little Suite for Christmas, seven short sections playing for a total of thirteen minutes in which melody and intimation intertwine to picturesque effect. The pianist is sometimes required to play inside the instrument (for harp, guitar and dulcimer effects) and to keep his foot down on the sustaining pedal to shimmer the harmony.
And such a “marvellous shimmer” is a significant part of Palais de Mari (1986), Feldman’s final work for solo piano (he died the following year). A photo of the eponymous Babylonian ruin that the composer saw at the Louvre inspired this slowly evolving and fascinating writing. Osborne takes twenty-six minutes over its quiet and spare textures, which are spellbinding, yet the listener remains wide-awake keen to know what happens next. Not much, in one sense, but there is a powerful hypnotism going on here drawing you in, willingly and consciously. When Palais de Mari finishes, it doesn’t just stop but has made a definite arrival.
Throughout Steven Osborne plays with commendable concentration and belief as well as subtlety of touch and volume. The day of recording followed those for his Hyperion Schubert recital; quite a contrast and one that says much about this pianist’s versatility and range of sympathies.