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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

 

OgreOgress Productions

 

David TOUB (b. 1961)
mf (1997/2004) [13:30]
Morton FELDMAN (1921-2006)

Two Pieces for String Quartet (1954) I [4:41]
Two Pieces for String Quartet (1954) II [3:14]
David KOTLOWY (b. 1959)

of Shade to Light (2001) [14:20]
Morton FELDMAN

For String Quartet (1956) [3:07]
John PROKOP (b. 1963)

New England, Late Summer (2003) [15:45]
Morton FELDMAN

Three Pieces for String Quartet (1956) I [3:14]
Three Pieces for String Quartet (1956) II [4:41]
Three Pieces for String Quartet (1956) III [3:07]
David BEARDSLEY (b. 1960)

as beautiful as ... (2004) [30:00]
Rangzen Quartet, Christina Fong
rec. No recording information
DVD-AUDIO

OgreOgress Productions - No catalogue number [95:15]



This disc is an audio DVD containing three works by Morton Feldman along with new works by four other composers. While the Feldman pieces are what grabs attention, some of the other works are very interesting indeed. The misnamed "Three Pieces for String Quartet" by Feldman - misnamed because they are a combination of Feldman's 1954 Two Pieces for String Quartet and his 1956 For String Quartet - are three short pieces (each less than five minutes) that, in retrospect, harken forward to his later string quartets, with similar structures and approaches. Brief phrases, short touches and deft strokes of melody arise and fade away; the instruments occasionally sound like an ensemble, but at other times sound like four instruments each playing their own fragments. Curiously, each of these works figures twice on the disc, once separate (the Two Pieces followed by another work, then the For String Quartet) and once together. This is not great, memorable Feldman, but is interesting for those who like his work.

Next comes David Toub's astounding mf, an homage to Feldman, but a totally different type of work. This is Toub's first recorded work, and it has a Glassian sound, a sort of driving rhythm with rocking melodies that got me tapping my feet, truly enjoying the gestalt of the work. This work is underscored by swaying intervals played on viola that maintain a strong rhythm, but also the underlying melodic base of the work. After about ten minutes, the tone changes, becoming more mysterious, then returns again to the opening motive of rhythmic energy to close with a joining of the instruments on a final tone.

David Kotolwy's Of Shade to Light is a haunting work that begins on a droning tone which arises and fades away and changes octave. With a tone similar to that of Feldman's two string quartets, this work is sinuous and hesitant; while not much happens, what does occur is interesting. The gradual shifts from one unison tone to a harmony, from music to silence, make the listener wonder where the music is going. An homage to Schoenberg, this work is quite beautiful, with its enigmatic sound and interesting tone colors.

John Prokop's New England, Late Summer is, as the composer says in the liner notes, "something that would not call attention to itself but be still an effective canvas." Written as "background" music for his wedding, this 15-minute piece is similar to the ambient music of composers such as Brian Eno and Harold Budd. While written as a soundscape, its breathing-like rhythm can grab hold of the listener, and its repetitive yet changing motives provide familiarity as the piece progresses. It certainly works as an ambient piece, yet merits a close listen.

Finally, the 30-minute As Beautiful as a Crescent of a New Moon on a Cloudless Spring Evening, by David Beardsley, is a work that you will either love or hate. "Tuned to the system known as just intonation," the work could be described by some as out of tune. Some people may find this type of music attractive, but it sounds to me like a group of instruments that are simply not in key. With long, droning tones, and no real harmony to speak of, aside from what sounds like a swarm of bees in the last eight minutes or so where each instrument plays a single tone together. The performers find it difficult at times to maintain their notes in tune - according to the tuning system - and you can hear them wavering at times. A few minutes of this is interesting; 30 minutes is too much.

So there are three very interesting new works, three short Feldman pieces, and one long work that may not appeal to many listeners. However, all this is moot if the DVD-audio format poses problems to you. Unplayable on CD players and many DVD players, you cannot listen to this disc easily. You also cannot digitize it to listen on an iPod, or via any digital music player. Add to that the relatively expensive price (one disc for the price of two), and the fact that it is a burned DVD as opposed to a manufactured DVD (more fragile) and there are enough negatives to turn you away from this disc. Composer David Toub has even criticized the choice of the DVD-A format on his website. There is one alternative though: you can buy the album from iTunes, for the standard album price, and get this music in a much more usable format.

It's a shame that such interesting new music is stuck on a format that is complicated to play, and offers few advantages (aside from being able to hold more music than a CD; this disc is about 95 minutes long). Little-known composers need exposure, and this type of disc will remain in the cubby-holes of new music just because of the format it uses. Nevertheless, for the three works by Toub, Kotolwy and Prokop, this disc offers a rare chance to discover some composers who merit much more attention.

 

Kirk McElhearn

 



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