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Morton FELDMAN (1923-1987)
Crippled Symmetry (1983)
Members of The California EAR Unit (Dorothy Stone, flutes, Arthur Jarvinen, percussion, Vicki Ray, piano/celesta)
Recorded 1999
[2 CDs priced as one 87.27]


Feldman drew inspiration from a wide and rich diversity of sources, many of them visual, having earlier rejected the influence of the idea of a coterie of composers. Abstract Expressionism provided fruitful analogues for him and so did, bizarre though it seems, Middle Eastern rugs and their patterns, one of which adorns the cover of this 87-minute, two CDs for the price of one, set from Bridge. Written four years before his premature death Crippled Symmetry dates from 1983 and comes from the same year in which Feldman wrote the infamous Second String Quartet, an eight hour epic; the huge span of that piece – its extreme length and the commensurately extreme demands it makes on the intellectual and physical stamina of the performers – is not reflected to nearly the same degree in Crippled Symmetry. It does however evince limited dynamics, slow tempi, an evolutionary compositional aesthetic and can deliberately and best be related to what Feldman himself saw in the works of Rothko – "a particular scale which suspends all proportions in equilibrium." Length in Feldman is directly traceable to a monumental accumulation that adduces to itself meaning and significance. Incremental or fractured Feldman’s length is one that uses and exploits elements of stasis and seems paradoxically both to suspend and devour time.

Feldman calls it Crippled Symmetry, a rather Blakean conceit, because whilst designed with a degree of geometric accuracy the rugs he studied aren’t as symmetrical as they first appear. His cross-disciplinary analogue took this visual perception and used it in his music, crippling – in his word – the formal proportions of his music by adding, subtracting or subtly evolving them. So for example the opening movement’s intervallic motif is subjecting to instrumental change – multi instrumentation, note changing, changing of rhythmic patterns and so on. In the third of the movements – which Feldman terms Regions and of which there are six – the incremental rhythmic drive is reflected in a rising scale and a sense of formal change. The sense of monumentality here is conveyed by an ever changing pattern or where more static by a perception of change, whether of sonority or of rhythm or of instrumentation. If this sounds artificial the music doesn’t sound it; it "alters as it alteration finds" and the resulting complex procedures are ones in which that change - that sense of inevitable mutation - bring with them meaning both within and without themselves. To that extent Feldman embodied the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic he so admired in painters such as Rothko and the performers here explore his sometimes bleak simplicity of utterance with utter conviction.

Jonathan Woolf

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