The strange power of Morton Feldman’s music, and late works such as his final completed score Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, continues to exercise a magnetic attraction to what admittedly must be a rather niche audience – niche that is, when compared to the runaway success of other contemporary composers with extended compositions such Max Richter. While we’re all hurrying through our lives, missing most of what happens around us by staring endlessly at computer screens of one kind or another, Feldman’s music seems to exist on a different plane – in forward motion even when it is absent, fascinatingly atmospheric and emotionally involving when we are prepared to slow down and accept its presence for a while. It’s easy to forget that computers and the internet were by no means as ubiquitous in 1987 as they are today. Sometimes it feels as if Feldman anticipated our spiritual needs, and playing this recording of Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello has reminded me once again of times past and passed time.
Quartetto KLIMT’s performance and recording is very good indeed. The acoustic has enough air to allow the instruments to breathe, and the players are sensitive to the nuances in the music. This release goes into straight competition with a recording on the Bridge label that appeared earlier in 2015 (see review), but it’s not easy for me to find myself firmly in one camp or the other. There is a slightly more bell-like timbre to the piano on the Bridge recording, and the string tone is a little less enigmatic than with Quartetto KLIMT, bordering on the edge of vibrato where KLIMT’s strings maintain a more absolute cool aloofness. In terms of recorded balance the Bridge players are quite a bit closer and the volume is cut higher. With greater distance the KLIMT piano sounds more transparent and a touch more natural in relation to the strings. I can’t really say I have an absolute preference either way in terms of performance. Like any great music, different performances can resonate with different moods. The KLIMT quartet’s performance has more of that ‘Rothko Chapel’ stillness that awakens awe but also meditation. To continue the metaphor, with the players on the Bridge label recording you are less in the chapel, more inside Rothko’s paintings themselves.
If I were forced to make a desert island choice as things stand at the moment I would have to go for this Stradivarius recording, if only for the more natural perspective of its sound. The restrained elegance of the performance is also more than admirable, and while both recording can and does draw you into Feldman’s unique world, the present version has the edge in suspending us in a timeless space of endless wonder. I’m reminded of Christopher Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral and would paraphrase it for Morton Feldman and this work in particular: “listener, if you seek his monument – close your eyes.”