This is a marvelous release, equally perfect in conception, execution, and engineering. The program locates the intellectual origins of the American avant-garde composers Morton Feldman and John Cage not in postwar European developments, but in the music of Erik Satie, who with each decade seems a more pioneering figure. Feldman and Cage here seem not modernists, but postmodernists. Front and center at the beginning is Feldman's masterpiece Rothko Chapel (1967), a chamber-ensemble-and-chorus evocation of the Houston, Texas, chapel adorned with paintings by, and partly designed by, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko.
Morton Feldman is without doubt one of the most remarkable and influential composers of the second half of 20‐th century America. His experimental works (where the course of a composition is often open to multiple interpretations) are based on melodic cells which are endlessly and subtly varied and developed in immensely long and slow moving structures (sometimes of several hours), producing a hallucinatory effect on the audience.
''I have no problem with notes… none at all'', was Feldman's cryptic comment on For Bunita Marcus. Throughout the seventy-two-minute duration of this extraordinary work, notes coalesce into wisps of melody which drift softly in and out of an immense silence. You are indeed, as pianist Marc-André Hamelin writes in the booklet notes, ''about to enter a world unlike any other.''
One of the characteristics of Morton Feldman's music is the way silences are thrown into stark relief. Each silence - freighted with memory, charged with expectation - becomes a unique presence in the music more than merely an absence of it. Though his silences are measured in units of time, they also contain an intimation of infinity. The music of the "classical" tradition slows down, speeds up, layers and otherwise manipulates time. Of the other arts, only cinema plays with our temporal perception to a greater degree.