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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 - Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello [Bridge Records - 2015]

Piano, violin, Viola, Cello was the final piece composed by Morton Feldman- one of the great minimalist/modern classical composers of the 20th century. And fittingly for a last work itís suitable sombre & slow in both itís pace & atmosphere, with this version of the piece coming in at the seventy five minute mark.

The piece was composed in 1987, and got its first performance in July 1987- just two months before Feldman sadly pasted away from pancreatic cancer.  Like most of Feldmanís work, it all depends on who is playing it & at what pace they are playing it on its running time- so for this work it has varied  from the early to late seventy minute mark. As Feldman pieces go I guess youíd say this is one of the mid length compositions, with his longer works going from three to six plus hours a piece( his longest work been String Quartet No.2).

As itís title suggest the piece is  built around four instruments- Piano, Violin, Viola & Cello. And like with most of Feldmanís work these play out series of patterns ( either together or separately). And with this composition in particular these patterns are extremely sparse & narrow in their range, making this one of the more difficult of Feldmanís works, due to itís minimal movement, extremely slow pace, and limited sound pallet. Yet for those willing to put in the time, effort & concentration  it does rewarding in creating a wonderful feeling of lulling & all engulfing melancholia.

This playing of the work was recorded in mid December 2013 at Conrad Prebys Music Centre, in San Diego. And the players here are: Christopher Finckel on Cello, Aleck Karis on Piano, Danielle Farina on Viola, and Curtis Macomber on Violin.

The piece starts in a very sombre & bleak fashion- with a tonally narrow selection of stark piano patterns- these are set into slowed & angular haze of string simmer & slow-mo saws. For the first fifteen or so minutes the pieces patterns remain extremely focused in similar tonal & structural patterns- creating a feel akin to staring at a grey, gloomy oppressive yet very slowly altering skyline.  At  around the seventeenth minute we get the piano standing on itís- playing out this haunting, heartbreakingly beautiful, yet deeply lonesome melodic pattern. From here on the piece moves between the original selection of narrow piano patterns & string simmer. And the stand alone deeply sad piano pattern- but this piano pattern only ever appears fleetingly; feeling almost like melancholic expectance in the crushing weight of overwhelming grief & sadness.  Sometimes this piano melody wonít appear for seemingly ages, as youíre heart literally pines for its isolated yet sad beauty again. And later on in the work it appears less & less, and it itís last few minutes it has completed departed. To be replaced by a blend of slow string grates Ďní sudden neck picks, and grey piano patter-nation.


As one would expect for this type of music the whole thing is recording with great clarity & sonic definition, with each player presenting their parts in a wonderfully focused & skilful manner. The CD comes in a jewel case that features a suitable fitting dark purple to black colour scheme, with the front cover featuring a picture of Feldman looking rather morose & forlorn with his hands in a grey Mack. Inside the CD booklet you get a page & a half write-up about the piece from pianist Aleck Karis, along with bios for each of the four players.

Feldmanís painfully slow & often sombre take on modern classic music itís not for everyone- with even seasoned fans of the avant-grade lacking the patience to fully enjoy his work. So with that said, and as this is one of his more difficult works- I canít really recommend this to anyone who doesnít already have some grounding & familiarity with Feldmanís body of work. But if you do have said grounding then there is much sad simmering wonder, with hints of fragile melancholic beauty to be found with in this work.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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