Morton Feldman: String
Quartet 2; Flux Quartet; Feldman Edition 6; Mode, 112.
Morton Feldman: Violin
and String Quartet; Peter Rundell - Violin, Pellegrini String
quartet; Hat Art, 2 - 137.
Michael Finnissy: Lost
Lands; Topologies; Metier, MSV CD 92050. see
also review by Neil
Michael Finnissy: This
Church; Richard Jackson, Jane Money, Ixion ensemble, conducted
by the composer; Metier, MSV CD 92069. see
also review by Gary
Michael Finnissy: Etched
Bright with Sunlight; Nicolas Hodges - piano; Metronome, MET CD
Music for Solo Flute; Nancy Rufer; Metier, MSV CD 92063. see
also review by Neil
Alwynne Pritchard: Invisible
Cities; Topologies; Metier, MSV CD 92040 see
also review by Chris
Julia Usher: Sacred Physic;
Various Artists; Metier, MSV CD 92066. see
also review by John
Peter Maxwell Davies:
Chamber works, 1952 - 1987; Guy Cowley - Clarinet, Ian Pace -
Piano, Kreutzer String Quartet; Metier, MSV CD 92055.
Gerhard Staebler: Complete
Piano Music; Paulo Alvares - Piano; Metier, MSV CD 92075, a and
Walter Zimmermann: Beginner's
mind: Works for Piano; Ian Pace - Piano; Metier, MSV CD 92057,
a and b.
Walter Zimmermann: Schatten
der Ideen, etc.; Ensemble Recherche; Mode,111.
Everything I wrote in my original review
of Morton Feldman's Second String Quartet still applies
(1- see below). In addition, it is testimony to the growing significance
of the music of Morton Feldman that alternative recordings of
his oeuvre are appearing with increasing frequency. This second
recording of the Second String Quartet is a further vindication
of his compositions in general, and this work in particular. It
can hardly displace the historical importance of the Ives Ensemble's
pioneering version, but it offers a fascinating alternative interpretation.
The most obvious difference is that the
new version occupies five discs instead of four, lasting more
than six, rather than five hours. This is because the Flux Quartet
have chosen to adopt the slowest tempi sanctioned by the composer,
and they place greater emphasis on matters of detail, with particular
attention to phrasing and expression. As a result, their interpretation
has greater variety than the Ives Ensemble, and this aspect encourages
However, as Christian Wolff observes in
his introduction, responses to such an extended score are predominantly
subjective. Inevitably, much depends on whether one chooses to
listen to all or part of the work at a single hearing. Nevertheless,
although compact discs are well suited to chamber music, they
cannot capture the epic character of Feldman's Quartet. In essence,
it is a ritual, probably best appreciated at night, thereby minimising
outside interference. Yet whether one listens individually, or
in a group, it can hardly match a 'live' performance. The audience
may not have achieved the mystical state described by the players
in the liner notes, but they undoubtedly shared in a unique communal
Still, concert performances are bound to
be rare, so, despite their limitations, both recordings are immensely
valuable. The Flux Quartet have benefited from the Ives Ensemble's
original version, and they deliver their extended interpretation
with unwavering conviction. Ideally, Feldman enthusiasts will
probably want both recordings, but those who have already invested
in the Ives Ensemble discs need not feel impelled to buy the new
set. On the other hand, for those who have yet to add the work
to their collection, the Flux Quartet can be recommended as slightly
Finally, as US politicians persist in mindlessly
bullying the rest of the world, it is gratifying to reflect for
a few hours on a quieter, more intelligent and altogether more
civilised aspect of American culture.
The same sentiment applies to Violin
and String Quartet, written shortly before String Quartet
II. It shares the same harmonic language, but is a much shorter
work, lasting a little over two hours. However, it is much less
varied, employing the same texture throughout, thereby demanding
even greater concentration from players and listeners. Furthermore,
the final pages are strangely inconclusive, even by Feldman's
standards. Nevertheless, Peter Rundell and the Pellegrini Quartet
ensure that it is a worthwhile addition to the Feldman discography.
The recording was originally announced some years ago, and may
even have appeared briefly. It is hoped it will remain longer
in the catalogue on this occasion.
Lost Lands and This Church
are Metier's latest Michael Finnissy offerings. They are very
different in character, and the latter might be regarded as a
surprising project for an avant-garde composer to undertake except
that Finnissy has always, and rightly, regarded himself as an
all-round musician. The title, Lost Lands, is taken from
the longest, and most convincing of the seven items on the disc.
Otherwise, at least the first five items tend to confirm Michael
Finnissy's comment that "these pieces are recycled waste". They
are all virtuoso pieces, but they are either duos for oboe, oboe
d'amour or soprano saxophone with percussion, or short studies
for solo oboe. Moreover, much of the material is rather similar,
so it is a distinct relief when the oboe is joined by bassoon
and pi for Keroiylu.
Lost Lands, for small ensemble, is
more ambitious in scale and content. It is not one of Finnissy's
finest achievements, but it merits close attention, not least
in view of its Feldmanesque qualities. It certainly goes some
way to justifying this disc.
This Church was recorded at St. Mary
de Haura, New Shoreham, in February 2003, as part of the celebrations
marking the 900th anniversary of the church. It was
designed as a community event, and as such, illustrates Finnissy's
versatility as a composer: his willingness to write as enthusiastically
for amateurs as professionals, and his ability to combine ideas
from the avant-garde with simpler music in a more familiar style.
The hour-long work, scored for soprano, baritone, two narrators,
chorus, organ and ensemble, is divided into four sections, outlining
the history of the church and its neighbourhood through extracts
from surviving documents. The music is arranged in four cycles
associated with the various vocal forces. They are interspersed
in accordance with the functions of the different groups, but
only the second cycle, for solo baritone, appears in all four
sections. Various styles are adopted, reflecting the different
traditions of Western European sacred music, so there are allusions
to the music that might have been heard in the church throughout
its history. Many composers have aspired to write for their local
community, but few have reached the level of conviction achieved
by Finnissy in This Church.
Michael Finnissy's piano music is more consistent
in quality than his contributions to other genres. In addition
to his own advocacy, it has attracted many pianists, and has been
well served by recordings. His own performances have been matched
by those of Ian Pace, and now they have been joined by Nicolas
Hodges' recent disc. Finnissy's compositions draw on a variety
of styles, and the fact that Pace and Hodges play a wide range
of new music makes them ideal interpreters. Their approaches differ
to some extent, but it will probably need their combined efforts
to encompass Finnissy's complete output for the piano.
Hodges' new disc has been thoughtfully planned.
Featuring items from different phases of Finnissy's career, it
illustrates different compositional methods, including original
pieces, sometimes using pre-existing material, as well as a variety
of arrangements and transcriptions. Above all, two substantial
items from A History of Photography in Sound are presented.
These are not simply a foretaste of Ian Pace's complete recording,
but hopefully foreshadow an alternative version.
Instrumental virtuosity has always been
a close ally of radical composition, so Nancy Rufer's solo flute
recital surveys not only her contribution to the contemporary
repertoire, but to new music in general. She has concentrated
on British and American composers, most of whom are well known,
though one or two may already be fading from the scene. All the
items are demanding, calling for a variety of flutes, but such
advanced playing techniques as multiphonics, or the use of vocalisation,
are comparatively rare.
Inevitably, there are suggestions of birdsong
and non-Western traditions. The exception is Brian Ferneyhough's
highly original Superscriptio, which may explain why it
is the most arresting of the nine pieces on offer. Still, the
others are worthy of attention, and listeners preferring challenging
late-evening chamber music to the ragbag that is Radio 3's Late
Junction could well start with this disc.
Alwynne Pritchard began her career primarily
as an exponent of small-scale music-theatre, but in recent years,
her range has expanded considerably. However, her modernist background
still provides the foundation of her creative imagination, so
there is an element of tension in works where she has attempted
to broaden her style.
The Piano Quintet: Barbara Allen,
is possibly the most arresting item. The not particularly dissonant
piano chords are contrasted with, even complemented by, modernist
writing for strings, whose context avoids any suggestion of functionality.
Likewise, the somewhat histrionic vocal expressionism of Kit
is heard against a rather ethereal instrumental background. The
shorter items, such as Spring, for piano, or the two versions
of Nostos ou Topos, for guitar, are rather anonymous. The
more extended pieces generally lack the individuality of the Piano
Quintet, though the experimental character of Matrix, for
violin, is worth noting. The disc concludes with the ambitious
Invisible Cities, for piano, echoing the initial Spring,
and giving the programme a measure of symmetry. It also confirms
Alwynne Pritchard's preoccupation with the piano.
Julia Usher is somewhat older than Alwynne
Pritchard. Her compositions are less radical in outlook, though
possessing a certain originality. She is not as well known, at
least partly because of her involvement in diverse activities:
projects linking all the arts; music-therapy; even music publishing.
She also has a long-standing obsession with Shakespeare: hence
half the disc is devoted to Sacred Physic, her "mini opera"
in the form of a "dramatic madrigal", for soprano and ensemble.
It is based on Shakespeare's drama, in which King Pericles is
finally re-united with his daughter, Marina, whom he believed
was drowned at sea. The work is essentially cast as a sequence
of variations, with the cello representing Pericles.
A Reed in the Wind, for solo oboe,
doubling cor anglais, is even more specifically in variation form.
It is ultimately based on Western Wynde: a theme favoured
by John Taverner and other English renaissance composers, and
the work was inspired by various prevailing winds that influence
different areas of the earth's surface.
The remainder of the disc comprises a piano
piece in memoriam Robert Sherlaw Johnson; some pieces for recorder
and piano; plus further vocal settings to texts by Blake and Shakespeare.
Many composers have cause to be extremely
grateful to metier sound and vision, but their latest disc, featuring
the music of Peter Maxwell Davies is probably their finest achievement
to date. It appears at a time when there is a dearth of Maxwell
Davies recordings, and presents some of his instrumental and chamber
music from the 1950's and 1960's.
The disc contrasts the four Quartets
Maxwell Davies wrote before embarking on the Naxos cycle,
with three pieces for clarinet – two with piano. There are also
the Five Pieces for Piano, opus 2,which, together with
the Clarinet Sonata and the 1961 String Quartet,
illustrate how closely Maxwell Davies identified with the principles
of post-war serialism during the first phase of his career. The
Quartet is one of the composer's finest scores, and if
any of the Naxos Quartets achieve a similar standard, the
cycle will be entirely justified. The Kreutzer's interpretation
is exemplary, and this recording can stand as a memorial to Goffredo
Petrassi - Maxwell Davies' main teacher - who died recently without
quite reaching a century.
Guy Cowley and Ian Pace provide an eruptive
performance of Hymnos, which is equally impressive. They
almost elevate the piece to the status of a major work, not least
in view of Cowley's extraordinary dynamic range even when employing
'advanced' instrumental techniques. On the other hand, the two
Little Quartets, from the 1980's, are precisely what they
claim to be. The style is also more predictable than in Maxwell
Davies' earlier output. Thus the radical transformation his music
underwent between the 1961 Quartet and Hymnos has
not been repeated subsequently. By any standards, this is an outstanding
disc and obviously highly recommended. Its importance can hardly
Another significant development has been
the start of a series featuring German composers who have been
somewhat neglected in this country. Gerhard Staebler and Walter
Zimmermann were born in 1949. They have been influenced by a variety
of styles across the new music spectrum, including the American
experimental tradition; but their responses have been very different.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in their piano music.
The piano was once the quintessential bourgeois
instrument, but as its domestic association has dwindled, it has
regained some of the potential for innovation which appealed to
such pioneering spirits as Beethoven and his immediate successors.
Staebler and Zimmermann are each represented by two-disc sets:
the former played by Paulo Alvares, a Brazilian resident in Cologne;
the latter by the redoubtable Ian Pace.
Gerhard Staebler's piano music is probably
not as central to his output as that of Zimmermann. Most of it
dates from the 1990s, including the half-hour piece, Dali,
which occupies disc 1, and offers a good introduction to Staebler's
style. The second disc contains shorter items, but collectively,
they can be regarded as forming a single entity. Windows
comprises five short pieces, while three equally brief items are
drawn from the series entitled Internet.
Many of Staebler's piano pieces also exist
in alternative versions. Some involve interpreting graphic notation,
and frequently include an element of improvisation. Extraneous
sounds are another important feature, emanating from radios, tape,
or percussion. In some instances, the pianist is also required
to vocalise. Hence, the range of sonorities is far greater than
might be anticipated from two discs of piano music.
On the other hand, the piano has always
been central to Walter Zimmermann's output, and his compositions
for the instrument usually reflect his most fundamental preoccupations:
folk music; medieval theology, particularly the writings of Meister
Eckhart; ancient and medieval philosophy; Zen Buddhism. Indeed,
Zen Buddhism is central to Beginner's Mind, which occupies
disc 1. Moreover, Zimmermann was drawn to Cage's output of the
late 1940s, together with Satie, while the prologue was inspired
by Schubert, thereby establishing a link with Staebler's Dali,
whose composition involved filtering Schubert's piano sonatas
through a magic square.
Thus, Zimmermann filters his music through
Zen principles to clear the mind. The 45 pieces are divided into
three groups in accordance with Buddhist precepts, and the work
is unified by recurring motifs and simple melodies which have
an hypnotic power. This is enhanced by Ian Pace's curiously haunting
vocal contributions during the latter stages of the work.
The second disc comprises shorter items,
though Wistenwanderung and Abgeschiedenheit are
substantial scores. They are based on similar material, and similar
compositional procedures, yet are very different in character.
Abgeschiedenheit, - the fourth work in the cycle, Vom
Nussen des Lassens, inspired by Meister Eckhart - is contemplative,
in accordance with Eckhart's injunction, "begin by freeing yourself
from yourself". Wistenwanderung, partly modelled on Plato's
concept of the seven stages in the evolution of the world's soul,
is altogether more dramatic.
Finally, Wanda Landowska's Lost Instruments,
for midi harpsichord and piano, is one of Zimmermann's more recent
pieces. It uses a technique originally developed in Lokale Musik,
whereby pre-existing material is systematically transformed. All
the music was associated with Landowska, and at the premiere,
was heard alongside the projection of images documenting the loss
of instruments, manuscripts, etc. to the Nazis during the occupation
of France. In short, these two discs reveal not only the compositional
range of Zimmermann's piano music, but also the wide variety of
sources from which he has drawn inspiration.
The same applies to Zimmermann's extensive
output of chamber music, from which Ensemble Recherche have selected
four works, dating from the mid 1990s. As a result, this is not
simply a 'portrait disc', but a detailed study of a specific phase
in his career. Morton Feldman is frequently cited as an obvious
influence, but whereas Feldman's compositional procedures and
his preoccupation with metaphysical issues stemmed partly from
his involvement with the visual arts, notably abstract expressionism,
Zimmermann has remained steadfastly Central European in outlook.
Accordingly, none of the pieces is very long; goal orientation
is avoided; and there is a definite impression that the music
could continue for a long time.
Distentio, for string trio, from
the cycle, About Time, is the longest, but also the most
concentrated item on the disc, and probably the best. In keeping
with the Confessions of St. Augustine, it is meditative
in character. Likewise, Schatten der Ideen 2, for piano
quartet, had its origins in the philosophical writings of Giordano
Bruno, whose speculations gave rise to a constantly changing interplay
between piano and strings.
The remaining pieces are hardly less rewarding.
Taken together with the recording of Zimmermann's piano music,
this disc offers a good opportunity to re-evaluate a composer
whose achievement has not been adequately recognised.
- John Warnaby: Extended Feldman; Tempo
No. 220, April 2002, pages 53 - 54.
© John Warnaby, 2003
Divine Art are issuing two new CD's one of which is contemporary
piano music, including one piece each from Finnissy and Feldman
(to be reviewed later) . We believe the Finnissy has not been
recorded previously. In October they issued Murray McLachlan's
version of Stevenson's Passacaglia (which the composer is delighted
with) and there is a forthcoming disc by Goldstone & Clemmow
of 20th and 21st century piano music by Holst, Stevenson, Leighton
and Hedges - all world premieres, even the Holst.
Title: "Decoding Skin"
Artist: Philip Howard (piano)
The disc contains:
Paul Whitty (b.1970): De-coding Skin
Max Wilson (b.1973): Zeitlin [on]
Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001): Evryali
Paul Newland (b.1966):
Michael Finnissy (b.1946): Eadweard Muybridge - Edvard Munch
Morton Feldman (1926-1987): Palais de Mari
ALL WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDINGS (except Evryali
and Palais de Mari)
cd duration 69:28 direct sales price £12.99.