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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
String Quartet and Orchestra (1973) [25:50]
Oboe and Orchestra (1976) [16:38]
Atlantis (1959) [11:31]
Han de Vries (oboe)
Pellegrini Quartet
Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt/Lucas Vis
rec. 1997, Sendesaal Hessischer Rundfunk
HAT[NOW]ART 206 [54:26]

In his booklet note for this release, Art Lange sums up Morton Feldman’s later 1970s orchestral work as “a field of energy change and transfer”, referencing poet James Schuyler’s description of Franz Kline’s Abstract Expressionist paintings as “…energy, both random energy and the energy of intention.” The relationship between art and music in Morton Feldman coincides frequently, and there are stylistic connections between his atmospheric Rothko Chapel and String Quartet & Orchestra. Episodes of silence form as important a part of the music as do the notes played, and textures such as rumbling timpani and solo string instruments rising out of dissonant but elegantly orchestrated chords are unmistakably Feldman, as is the slow progress of music that has a pulse that is both fragmentary and seemingly logical in its inevitability. The effect is in the form as a whole, as well as in some extraordinary moments of static reflection - Feldman’s manipulation of time as something with the plasticity of wet clay being, to me at least, one its great fascinations.

Oboe & Orchestra is more concerto-like in the more distinctive nature of the soloist’s timbre against the orchestras rich background. Renowned oboist Han de Vries has absolute control over the extended phrases, extremes of range and other techniques demanded from his instrument, and there is an innate, almost neo-classically operatic drama embedded into the quasi-narrative qualities of this piece. The orchestral score is dark and forbidding: a chasmic space of echoes created by softly struck gongs and cymbals, the other sections emerging to comment and accompany the lonely soloist whose notes are directed towards this void and only occasionally answered.

Atlantis is an entirely different prospect. The booklet notes tell us that this is “a rare recorded example of Feldman’s graphic notation for chamber orchestra, in which the performers are presented with certain freedoms in selecting details of pitch or duration and the phrasing of the material.” The results have an improvisatory feel and a sense of randomness very different to the previous works. Feldman was already moving away from these compositional techniques, this ‘sharing of control’ between composer and musicians becoming a stepping-stone towards his later style. This taken into consideration, there is an artistry and refinement in this performance that is quite compelling. There is a clear sense of contact between the musicians, and there is also a lightness and transparency in the piece, aided in no small part by an occasional witty, jazz-like inflections from the piano in particular.

Fans of Morton Feldman will leap on this release with gusto. It seems the only work with any kind of alternative recording is Oboe & Orchestra which appeared on the CPO label’s Hans Zender Edition. Armin Aussem’s more vibrato-laden tone makes this into a more intense reading, and is also over four minutes longer than Lucas Vis so we’re contrasting rather than indicating clear preference in this case. All superbly performed and recorded, this is a fine release from the pioneering HAT label, and deserving of your attention.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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