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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987) For John Cage (1982) [71:46]
Erik Carlson (violin)
Aleck Karis (piano)
rec. 2017, Conrad Prebys Hall, Conrad Prebys Music Center, UC San Diego. BRIDGE 9498 [71:46]
This is volume 6 of the Bridge label’s excellent Morton Feldman series, of which Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello (review), also with Aleck Karis, and Piano and String Quartet (review) have a permanent and prominent place in my collection. As the booklet notes for this release tell us, For John Cage is the second of seven works that Feldman dedicated to artists, and the cover photo bears witness to a friendship that lasted from 1950 to Feldman’s death in 1987.
There is an austerity to the setting of violin and piano when compared to the greater numbers involved in the works previously mentioned, but Feldman’s creation of a score in which both violin and piano have equal content and closely integrated, often imitative material, makes it possible to hear this duo almost as a single, admittedly somewhat exotic instrument. The distinctiveness of character between violin and piano argues against this of course, and there are factors other than sustain and timbre involved. Feldman at times makes distinctions between enharmonic expressions of the same note – E sharp and F for instance – between piano and violin, whereby subtle and not so subtle relationships in intervals and tuning can arise. Frequent use of double flats and sharps can also end up delivering almost quarter-tone differences, depending on how the performer decides to interpret them. Erik Carlson is by no means extreme in this regard, but you can clearly hear intervals that sit closer than you would expect to hear from a piano, all the while managing to sound in-tune and well-integrated.
Feldman’s dynamic in For John Cage is ‘pianissisimo’ or PPP throughout, and for such a recording the choice between placing the musicians further away to create a concert-hall effect or closer to the microphones and having the user regulate the sound is annotated in the booklet: “we recommend listening to this recording at low volume.” The instruments are recorded closely, and as a headphone user I could argue for a little more air around the violin, but you can easily adjust your perspective through speakers and create more distance for yourself. The advantage to such an intimate setting is that the colours from and synergy between both players have a luminous clarity that carries its fascination from the beginning to the surprising drama that goes on in the last few bars.
Alternative recordings to this one include Yasushi Toyoshima and Aki Takahashi on the ALM label which, at nearly 98 minutes, is presented on two CDs. This disadvantage is compensated for in a reading that has a heightened meditative quality; a Japanese stone garden effect reaching out into a space that has no horizon. The Mode Records label has an 82 minute performance with Stephen Clarke and Marc Sabat, also split over two discs but with other repertoire included. This I find less convincing, the rather weak tone of the violin making it secondary to the piano. Josie Ter Haar and John Snijders have recorded it for the Hat[now]Art label in a nicely balanced and exquisitely poised 69 minute performance that is more comparable with Carlson and Karis. I don’t have Andreas Seidel and Steffen Schleiermacher’s MDG recording to hand (review), and Paul Zukofsky, who premiered this work, with pianist Marianne Schroeder, recorded it on the Cp2 Records label but this is out of print.
In any case, if you are collecting Bridge Records’ Morton Feldman recordings then this will be something to put straight on your wish list. It is a very fine recording in its own right, and comes with a full recommendation from me, though if you already have a good version then only you will be able to decide if this is an essential purchase or not. If any of you Feldman fans don’t have For John Cage then you need have no fear in investing with this recording. It’s going to be one of the top choices for a long time to come.
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