CD review: Ivan Ilic plays Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus

First published in Gramophone, December 2015 issue

There’s a neat Cornelius Cardew quote about how best to approach the works of Morton Feldman: “almost all Feldman’s music is slow and soft … Only when one has become accustomed to the dimness of light can one begin to perceive the richness and variety of colour.” This disc from Paris-based Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic taps into the richness and the variety, and adds something of his own inquisitive voice. It is Ilic’s third Feldman disc, and to me it’s his most spacious and searching yet.

Feldman’s 70-minute solo piano piece was written in 1985 for the composer Bunita Marcus, a favourite student, companion and sometime lover. Feldman would later acknowledge that it was also a work about the death of his mother, “and the whole idea of someone lingering on. I just didn’t want the piece to die.” The flow of time is crucial: that ability to send us drifting — to suspend our sense of real time for over an hour — while simultaneously drawing in our attention to the bloom and decay of each individual note. Ilic clinches the balance with a quiet, urgent focus and a delicate touch. The music is stark and introverted, and gently mournful, but in Ilic’s hands it is also very sensual. That his debut album in 2008 of was a set of Debussy Preludes really shows in the soft-grained shimmer of his articulation and the flux of his rhythms.

My only complaint is a nerdishly technical one, to do with sound quality. The piano has been recorded up-close in a way that fits with the intimacy of the music, but the sutures between sections are often audible in the acoustic of the hall. I’m being ultra fussy here, but these things matter in a piece that demands such acute attention to texture and space.