Michael Tilson Thomas / New World Symphony Orchestra MORTON FELDMAN Coptic Light

It's difficult to explain why Morton Feldman's music is so hot these days. Quiet, uneventful, dissonant, and often extremely lengthy, his works don't seem all that accessible on paper. But hearing is believing, as they say, and unlike some avant-garde music, appreciation of Feldman's art requires no understanding of arcane forms or compositional techniques. Perhaps this is because Feldman was influenced more by the abstract paintings of Philip Guston and Mark Rothko than by the music of any of his contemporaries. Listen to "Coptic Light" 1986 -- one of the composer's final works and his orchestral masterpiece -- a hypnotic kaleidoscope of slowly shifting colors, with no melody and no discernible rhythmic patterns, just wave after wave of gorgeously gauzy sound. This music is so colorful and finely textured that you can almost see and feel it. In fact, experiencing it fully requires your visual and tactile senses as much as your hearing. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas draws expressively serene performances from the Miami-based New World Symphony. Pianist Alan Feinberg finds infinite shades of pianissimo in the simply-titled "Piano and Orchestra," and cellist Robert Cohen imbues the spare yet profound lines of "Cello and Orchestra" with intensely quiet yearning. This extraordinary recording should be snatched up by Feldman's growing legion of fans and win many new converts, as well. (Andrew Farach-Colton)

Overlapping textures and soft, shifting timbres are the most recognizable features of Morton Feldman's music, and his attractive sonorities draw listeners in ways other avant-garde sound structures may not. This music's appeal is also attributable to its gentle ambience, a static, meditative style that Feldman pioneered long before trance music became commonplace. The three works on this disc are among Feldman's richest creations, yet the material in each piece is subtly layered and integrated so well that many details will escape detection on first hearing. In "Piano and Orchestra," the piano is treated as one texture among many, receding to the background and blending with muted brass and woodwinds in a wash of colors. "Cello and Orchestra" might seem like a conventional concerto movement, especially since the cellist is centrally placed on this recording and plays with a rather lyrical tone. However, Feldman's orchestral clusters are dense and interlocked, which suggests that the cello should be less prominent and blend more into the mass of sounds behind it. No such ambiguity exists in the performance of "Coptic Light," which Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony Orchestra play with even dynamics and careful attention to the work's aggregate effect, which is mesmerizing. (Blair Sanderson)

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