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Philip Corner / Malcolm Goldstein: Pieces of the Past

img  Tobias Fischer

Malcolm Goldstein once described his philosophy towards life thus: "I just want it to be continually open, so that in death I'll just disappear. Leave no footsteps behind, no memorial. Just like a cloud, passing." And yet, even in the world of this forever free spirit, there were constants. One of the most essential of these, his life-long friendship with Philip Corner, is documented on Pieces of the Past, an album documenting an artistic relationship of mutual respect and inspiration in which the roles of composer and performer were as regularly questioned as they were clearly defined.

Certainly Goldstein, as he is happy to point out himself in the liner notes to this release, fed from performances of Corner's music as an impetus for his own compositional and improvisational work. The challenges they presented took his approach to the violin to a whole new level, leading him to the development of a variety of personal techniques. Many of them are on display here, most instantly appealing perhaps on hypnotic one-note meditation "Gamelan Maya", on which the violin lends color, rhythmical accents and texture to Corner's perpetually shifting and expanding piano pulses. And yet, the most impressive parts occur on the opening "Piece for Malcolm Goldstein by Elizabeth Munro", a composition which, with its microtonal oscillations, challenging glissandi and piercingly high pitches may not only exceed the limits of many listeners' tolerance, but also force them to reconsider traditional concepts of minimalism and richness.

On paper, this is nothing but a twenty-minute long almost uninterrupted line of sonic ink. And yet, in the moment of experience, it is all expression. Every note, every gesture, every melodic contour and curvature, the pressure of the bow on the strings, of the hand holding the bow and hitting the wood, the dynamic arches, the variations in pulse and vibrato, the endless gradations in tone from sweet cantabile to bestial grinding contains emotion, wisdom and meaning, there is not a single note here which Goldstein doesn't make his own, not a single decision which he leaves up to chance, not one instant where he falters or strays from his path. He is as perfectly in the moment as he is faithfully following the score and as a listener, the process of hearing him bring it to life is as breathtaking as watching Felix Baumgartner taking his parachute jump from space.

As displeasing as it may be to some people, this is music which leaves an indelible impression, which  stays with you. Goldstein may want to disappear completely in death. But with music like this, it's just not going to happen.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Pogus Recordings