Morton Feldman - For John Cage [Diatribe Records - 2020]Of all of Morton Feldman's mid-range/ hour plus pieces For John Cage is possible the most played & recorded. I think this is down to two reasons - firstly the urgent & often angular feel of the work makes it more approachable than the largely more quiet & skeletal side of the great modern composers output. Secondly, it’s for just two instruments- the Violin & Piano, so the work can be easily played in a range of small to large settings- with of course talented & disciplined musicians on board. Here from up 'n' coming Irish modern composition/ improv label Diatribe Records, is a 2018 recording of the work which brings together pianist John Tilbury who is one of the key/ go-to players of Feldman piano work, and respected Irish violinist Darragh Morgan who has a good grounding in playing modern classical music.
The release appears in the form of a CD digipak -this features a nice sleek & low-key modern graphic art design of a circular blue shape that is covered by a swirling fingerprint-like loop- the shape is also slightly rippled at points too. The shape is repeated close up inside the cover- with the CD face its self taking on a red close up take of the swirls. So a very fitting & classy bit of packaging.
This playing of the piece was recovered in London at City University on the 3rd September 2018- and as you’d hope with a live recording of Feldman’s work, the audio is wonderful in both it’s clarity & sonic definition- so you can hear ever nuance of both the piano & the violin in a balanced/ even manner.
Like many of Feldman’s compositions, For John Cage is always played at different speeds- these run between seventy & eighty minutes. This playing of it is one of the longest I’m aware of at just shy of eighty-five minutes, really pushing the CD space to its limit. So as a result of this we get a slower- more dwelling on the notation take on the work, sure much of the works angular edge still remains- but its tense & nervy qualities are largely played down.
As one would hope & expect both Tilbury & Morgan play the work with wonderful precision & control- with the pieces shifting & interlocking note patterns unfolding in a spell-binding manner. For those unfamiliar with the piece, or Feldman’s wider output- this composition is all about the joining, then breaking of the piano & Violin- these play out a series of subtly adjusting/altering note patterns- that move between scuttling rapidity & sour seesaw, angular darting-ness, and grim sawing decline. For those looking for an easy & melodic listening- this or really any other of Feldman compositions don't offer this- you have to enjoy both haunting sparse-ness & off course angularity to get/ full enjoy Mr Feldman output- but as I’ve been a huge fan of much of his out put, and no matter how many times I hear his work/ and or different playings of it, I take away something new.
In the finish, this is another great playing of a classic Feldman composition- with both players showing both their understanding & skill at playing the work- added to that you get the classy & sleek CD presentation- all making for a must-have item if you enjoy Feldman’s work or angular-yet-entrancing modern classical composition.Roger Batty