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Philip Thomas - Morton Feldman Piano Box Set [Another Timbre - 2019]

Over the last ten-to-fifteen years, the interest in the work of key American modern classical composer Morton Feldman has grown in leaps and bounds- with new playings/ recordings of his work appearing each year. And itís easy to see/hear why- as Feldman skeletal, sparse yet often haunting & melancholic work is really unlike any other composers work- you know when your listening to a Feldman work and his best compositions  really reward ones attention/ time tenfold. Iíve dabbled in the work of other modern classical composers work- but Iíve always returned to Feldman again & again. Here from Sheffield based modern classical/ modern composition label Another Timbre is a rather splendid five box set of piano works composed by Feldman and played by remarkable talented British pianist Philip Thomas- the set offers up both short, mid-length & longer works- so really whatever your Feldman preference you'll be happy with this set.

The set is presented in a glossy box- with each of the five CDís coming in their own slip sleeves- the design of both the box of the slip sleeves follow the labels house style design, this finds plain white backdrops with a minimal square artwork illustrations- and for this set itís either different textured/colored patterns with other shapes in, nicely nodding towards the often pattern-based flow and notation of Feldmanís compositions. Also in the set is a glossy 52 page booklet- this once again follows the sets minimal look with mainly black text against white- the booklet takes in full set track listings, and lengthy write-ups about Feldmanís piano compositions & playing them, as well early & unpublished music, and the compositions presented on this collection.
 
The five-disc set is a slightly more far-reaching take on the excellent, long out of print John Tilbury boxset All Paino- this four-CD boxset appeared back in 1999, and until now had been the most far-reaching & largest collection of Feldman's piano works. This new boxset adds in another three never before recorded works, and of course  it finds Mr. Thomas take/ playing of Feldman's work, much like Tilbury heís become one of the masters of playing Feldmanís piano work- and heís now been playing the composers work for twenty-five years. Normally when one thinks of different playings of a composer work- there is often not a terrible amount of difference between one playing & another- but with Feldman work it can be played at different speeds, with slightly different intentions, and flows- so when youíve heard a Feldman work by one player, or group of players you certainly havenít fully heard the piece- as each player puts his own take/ touches on their playing. And itís the same with Thomas; though-out this set he tattles the compositions with both precision, great concentration, and when needed emotion- be it pared back & sparse, or at times cascading & spiraling in its feel of melancholia, clever angularity, or fraught yet fading tension.
 
The first disc takes in the four tracks of  1959ís "Last Pieces", 1977ís "Paino" and 1986ís "Palais De Mari". And these three works stand as a good sonic statement of what we can expect through of the set. "Last Picecs" with itís twenty-three & a half minute runtime- is a very delicate, lulling angular work- which moves from grim & fading thoughtfulness, though to slowly darting & sad pattern surprise, onto jerking angularity. The just twenty-seven and eight seconds of ďPainoĒ moves  from shifting higher note uncertainly, though to jarring & often tense blends of lulling akward-ness, & sudden fleeting violent note strike- itís certainly one Feldmans more shifting & active work, and Thomas really seems to instil his playing  with a lot more urgency & clarity than other playings Iíve heard of this piece. Final we of course have the twenty two & forty one seconds of "Palais De Mari"- and this later day pieces has always stood as one of my favorite of Feldmanís shorter works, and it's always the track Iíll play to those who donít know his work- as it has a more simply defined & moody melody running through it, it illustrates very nicely Feldmans pattern-based way of arranging notes in an easier to comprehend manner, and itís the perfect balance of lulling sadness & dart angularity/ surprise of a Feldman's work. Mr. Thomas playing of this track is very controlled, intricate & nuanced- may be in places, it loses some of its delicate touches of melancholia, but I simply canít fault the way he tattles this piece with such control & mastery.
 
The second disc in the set focuses mainly on shorter works composed by Feldman between the 1940s and 1950s. In all, there are twenty tracks on this just over seventy-four minute CD- which make up fifteen pieces. And on this disc we find the first of the unreleased tracks it opens the disc, and is simply called ďUntitled Paino pieceĒ and itís from around 1942- this one minute track certainly shows Feldman at his more formal/ traditional form of composition- as we a get slow lulling march of mid-range & higher notation that marks out a wavering rising melody. As we move through this disc we find both Feldman trying to find his own composition style, as well as experimenting to a certain extent. I canít say Iím the biggest fan of this period of his work, as I find it often too overtly jarring & tryingly darting- so of the five discs here this is my least favorite. But once again Mr. Thomas excels in his playing of these works- really managing to play these often fairly complex compositions with both shifting type of playing & nuanced darting patter-nation.
 
The third disc is sort of a half-way-house between short & slightly longer works- in all the seventy-seven minute and forty-four-second release takes in eleven pieces, and the beginning of one Feldmanís longer work "Triadic Memories" which has most of itís remaining seventy-four minute playing on disc number three. The pieces on this disc date from the mid-1950ís- to- early 1960ís, and show Feldman get more comfortable with his own style of compositions. The highlights of this disc go from slowly shifting-to- felt darting decay note strike of the two-part piece ďMusic For the film Sculpture By LiptonĒ. The clusters of cut flourishes & light hovering delay that is 1964ís ďPaino PieceĒ. The doomed lower-meets-fraught higher note seesawing of 1963ís ďPaino Pe to Philip GustoĒ. And of course, the beginning of "Triadic Memories"- the features the first sixteen minute and forty-four second of this classic Feldman composition- and once again Thomas plays the work with so much clarity, depth & flare- and here the complex & at times unsure emotional grimness of the work is spot on.
 
Over on disc four, we have the remainder of "Triadic Memories"- and this runs for a further seventy-four minutes and thirteen seconds. And really here Thomas puts a complete spell on the listener, as he unfolds this epic work with such skill, focus & mastery of playing- moving through the pieces slowly unfold blend of notation patterns, delicate melodies, and subtle angularity. Truly amazing stuff.
 
The firth and final disc in the set finds Thomas tattling another longer work in the 1985ís ďFor Bunita MarcusĒ and his playing comes in at sixty-nine minutes and twenty-six seconds. Which I think stands as one of the more faster playings of the composition done thus far- so as a result, the whole thing feels very taut & tight in itís unfold of note patterns- which gives Thomas playing of the work a more angular/ hovering on a razor blade feel. Once again Thomas plays this piece with such discipline, depth & often nervy tension. A great, great end to this boxset that really cements & highlights how Thomas's playing style is both distinct & highly controlled.
 
 
This set received an initial pressing of a 1000 copies, and already this number has been depleted somewhat- Iím not sure if or when this box will be repressed- but if youíre a Feldman fan act now to avoid disappointment. Another Timber has certainly done a great job on this boxset, and I hope the popularity will lead to them doing similar boxsets in the future. All told a wonderfully presented boxset which features some great & highlight accomplished playing from Mr. Thomas- if youíre a Feldman nut- it goes without saying buy, buy, buy, and if your new to this composers work Iíd say this is a good as any place to start, as you get a good selection of types of composition- and itís fairly nicely priced rolling in around just over the £30.00 mark

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

Roger Batty
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