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Morton Feldman - Piano and String Quartet [Another Timbre - 2021]

Piano and String Quartet was one of the later works by minimalist modern classical composer Morton Feldman. He penned the chamber composition in the year 1985. It was originally written for pianist Aki Takahashi & the Kronos Quartet, and premiered at LA’s County Museum in November of 85. Over the years the piece has received several playing’s/recordings- this 2021 one finds members of the highly respected Apartment House tattling the work.

The CD release appears on the always worthy Another Timbre- with the CD coming presented in their house style simple white gatefold. The cover features a colour block painting by artist Nivag Phoenix, and of course, fits the pieces pattern-based structure.

This playing of the work was recorded in March of this year at Henry Wood Hall, in South London. With the players been Mark Knoop- piano, Mira Benjamin- Violin, Gordon MacKay- Violin, Bridget Carey- Viola, and Anton Lukoszevieze- Cello.  It was recorded by Another Timbre’s Simon Reynell, who is a retired BBC sound engineer- so as you’d expect it has great depth and clarity.

As with most of Feldman longer works, its runtime depends on who is playing it- with these falling between sixty-eight to nearing eighty minutes. This take on the composition is one of the longer versions coming in at the 79.50 mark, and while at points it does lightly simmer and slowly dart, there is still some (relatively) spritely flare to some of the piano work.

The piece finds the piano and string elements set apart as two separate, largely unrelated elements. For the work's length, the players are set out simple pattens/ tones: the strings focus on largely sustained chord simmers, while the pianist plays "broken" chord patterns. These elements are fed out in stark and stripped back, yet barrenly entrancing structure. At moments it feels like the keys and the strings are briefly meeting, at others, they sombrely glide or angularly drift by each other. As with all of Feldman’s longer works, Piano and String Quartet seems to alter both time and one’s memory, as you drift in the glumly lulling sonic sea of keys and strings.

The playing throughout is both masterful and disciplined, yet at the same time emotional and fragile. Knoop’s key work is gentle, yet focally persistent. While the strings sit between genteelly simmering and lullingly uneasy.  So most certainly a wonderfully accomplished playing of this latter Feldman work.

As a long time, Feldman devotee, it’s always wonderful to get new recordings of Feldman’s work appearing, and I must Apartment House have done a marvellous job with their presentation of Piano and String Quartet. If you like any form of sparse-yet-lullingly persistent sonic minimalism, this is something you’ll be wanting to check out.

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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