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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston [Atopos - 2013]

This 2013 four CD box set offers up a 2012 live recording of one of Morton Feldmanís most lengthy works.  For those unfamiliar with Feldman, he is one of great and most (quietly) dramatic minimalist/modern classical composers of the 20th century. His sonic out put is often slow & quiet music, thatís built around steadily evolving asymmetric patterns. He deals in angular notation as well as moving and deeply sad harmonic dwells and patterns.

For Philip Guston was written in 1984 by Feldman for flute, piano/Celeste, and percussion. The piece is built around a small selection of notes and limited pitches, which are played with extreme slowness on usually one instrument at a time, or as slow & minimal interlocking then breaking patterns. The piece can last anywhere between just over four hours, to nearing five- depending on how itís played(Feldman only ever wrote out notation for his scores, so  his pieces are often played at slightly different speeds).  The piece was Feldmanís a sonic tribute to New York painter & printmaker Philip Guston( 1913-1980).  Gustonís work moved between abstract expressionists & neo expressionists, and he & Feldman were friends in the late 70ís to early 80ís.


The version on offer here was recorded at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on the 21st of November 2012.  The piece is played here by: respected  British pianists John Tilbury, Flutist Calare Rees, and percussionist Simon Allen- length wise this is one of the more lengthy versions of the piece as it clocks in at four hours & forty nine minute mark. Iím not familiar with either Rees, or Allens past work- but Iím very aware of Mr Tilburyís past work, as heís played on many modern interruptions of Feldmanís work, and is seen as one of the one of the foremost interpreters of Mr Feldmanís work.

The piece opens with a slightly wavering 'n' melancholic   pattern of interlocking piano & flute textures- these elements play out this stop/start series of haunting notes/ sonic patterns. Fairly soon slowly chiming percussion joins in the moody, quite creepy & slow weave of notes. And from here onwards the piece slowly and  very atmospheric weaves itís way through a series of repetitive notation/ haunting patterns- with the instruments slowly weaving together, or sometimes  moving along their  own solitary paths.  Most of the pieces running time is built around these slow, eerier & melancholic patterns- which
unhurriedly drift & edge by at a  extremely slow & skeletal  pace, with often a few seconds silence or note drift taking part in the composition.  The track only really shifts out of itís slow  eerier series of patterns in itís last  half an hour, when seemingly out of no-where the trio join together to form this slow yet warming melodic flow of notes, which feels like the first rays of spring after a long yet oddly compelling sonic autumn.


Iíve only ever heard/owned one other recorded version of this piece(there are three more other versions available), and that was 1997 California Ear Unit recording of it, which featured: Dorothy Stone on Flutes, Arthur Jarvine on percussion, and Gloria Cheng-Cochran  on Piano/ Celeste. I guess if one was to compare the two versions, this new one is a lot slower & stripped in itís feeling, with the duo really focusing in on the haunted & eerier elements of the work. And length wise The California Ear Unit version came in at a running time of four hours & Eight mintues, so this recent take on the piece is another forty mintues longer.


The set comes in a four CD box set, which comes inside a card slip sleeve. And this features a moody & inversed picture of the tiled roof of a old house in the Tuscan Hills(the Atopos label is based in Tuscan, so all their modern classical releases feature similar pictures).  The set comes with a fourteen page booklet, which features a brief two page write-up about the piece & Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which is in English & two other languages. Also featured in the booklet are pictures of Feldman, and the three players, along with a colour reproduction of one of Guston paintings.

As youíd expect sound recording wise the piece is recording perfectly clear & with all the elements perfectly defined/heard, with only the very occasional cough been picked up by the recording equipment from time to time.


So all in all  this is a beautiful played & executed version of one of Feldmanís more lengthy pieces. Sure this isnít for everyone, and the piece needs a lot of patience, but if you enjoy slow moving modern classic music or soundtrack work, lengthy & moody ambience, or even textual pattern sound or noise such as more lengthy submersion in either HNW or ANW, youíll find this truly spell-biding stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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