Morton Feldman - Piano, Violin, Viola, cello [Another Timbre - 2017]Here we have a recent playing of this final work by celebrated minimalist/modern classical composer Morton Feldman. And as the title suggests this just under seventy-four-minute work is played by Piano, Volin, Viola, and cello- with the four instruments edging out fragile, quiet, and melancholic patterns around each other- sometimes together, and other times alone.
This work was composed by Feldman in July 1987- just a few months before the great man passed away from pancreatic cancer. Feldman is known for his extremely slow, gloomily– to-beautiful-delicate, and pared back compositions. And Piano, Violin, Viola, cello is certainly one of his more difficult, tonally narrow, yet somehow still haunting works.
This version was recorded in early January of this year in London at the Henry Wood Hall. Playing the work here is Mark Knoop piano, Aisha Orazbayeva Violin, Bridget Carey Viola, and Anton Lukoszevieze. With the performance been recorded with great clarity & depth by Another Timbre label owner Simon Reynell.
The track opens with a very stark & somber blend of persistently dart piano notation, and slow swarming haze of skeletal string work. As the piece moves on the instruments slowly shifting & slide by & around each other. With the piano moving from plaintive-yet-sour darts, fragile descents, & coldly barren weaves. And the three stringed instruments moving from slurred angular slices, bleak seesawing, and discordant simmers. Tonally the track is narrow, and to start with there is really nothing harmonic or pleasing about the work. It really seems like the audio equivalent of stepping out into a freezing & barren landscape, then moving through it’s stark terrain.
At around the 17th-minute mark, we get the more persistent appearance of a sadly harmonic & climbing piano pattern- this had appeared early on in the work, but it was always overly counterbalanced by more angular & sour string swam. As the track progresses one's mind tries to find this semi brighter element in the slowly unfolding patterns, and yes it does seem to appear more often, but we still mainly have to contend with the more sour, discordant, and cold patterns.
This is now the second playing I’ve heard & reviewed of this composition( the first been the 2015 release of the work on Bridge Records), and I must say I still find it one of the more difficult of Feldman’s works to fully warm to. And I guess this is down to the extremely barren, mostly angular, & tonally narrow feel of the work. Though I must say the more harmonic elements seem even more haunting & beautiful with-in the context of the track.
All four players here play the composition with both great depth, concentration, and stark flare. And the recording is perfectly balanced & nuanced- so it’s certainly a most worthy take on the composition. In finishing I think even if you have a good grounding in Feldman’s work, you’ll find this a difficult proposition- but if you are willing to put in the time & patience needed then I’m sure you’ll get something from this.Roger Batty