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Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
String Quartet and Orchestra (1973) [25:50]
Oboe and Orchestra (1976) [16:38]
Atlantis (1959) [11:31]
Han de Vries (oboe)
Pellegrini Quartet
Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt/Lucas Vis
rec. 1997, Sendesaal Hessischer Rundfunk
HAT[NOW]ART 206 [54:26]

Mark Morris offers illuminating insight when he says of Feldman: "… initially influenced by Cage and the avant-garde New York painters [he] developed an idiom of quiet, sometimes hypnotic strands of sound undergoing slow-moving variation of detail."

This disc is part of Hat-Hut Records' Feldman series. What this orchestral disc may lack in duration it makes up for in esoteric value and Feldman's own brand of confiding mystery. Also in evidence for two of the three works is the composer's predilection for sparse, purely instrumental, titles and for avoiding dividing works into movements: all three pieces are continuous uninterrupted corteges.

String Quartet and Orchestra is the longest here. It is quiet and whispers just over the audible side of silence. The music is typically spare. The score speaks of the mysterious and the minatory. The music broods rather than makes conventional statements. It seems to describe a cleansed denuded landscape. Occasionally a solo instrument from the quartet speaks but does so rarely. Otherwise there is little sense of the contrast of orchestra and string quartet.

Han de Vries in Oboe and Orchestra is accorded more prominence and frequency of bereft intervention. His instrument is well forward in the sound image. There is yet more awe and mystery in this slow-motion score but there is a greater sense of urgency than in the previous work and even some isolated growls [11:00] and sour expostulations from the orchestra.

Art Lange in his notes says of the two works of the 1970s that "The music … becomes a field of energy exchange and transfer … Sequential events … emerge as autonomous masses of sound which hover, linger, repeat and are replaced by the next event…"
Atlantis for chamber orchestra is much earlier and shorter. It dates from the time when Feldman was using graphic notation. There is more going on. Little insectoid cells flitter and flicker through the undergrowth and do so at speed. There's more pizzicato than legato in this flight of fancy. An orchestral piano joins prominently in the fun. There is so much more activity in this score and it hardly matters that graphic notation is used to set down the composer's creative ideas. The sense of dynamic motion is overpowering by comparison with the quasi-stasis of the 1970s pieces.

The sound is mercilessly clean and clear.

The discursive notes for this digipack are by Art Lange and date from 2000. They are reproduced on three sides of three-way cardboard fold. Minimalism is in evidence again in the thick card packaging: the CD fits into a flap. Gone are the days of a plastic stem glued into the cardboard fold.

Will CDs eventually become degradable and if so will we be able to control when the degrade happens? For decades now we have been told that the plastic disc is a thing obsolete or at least obsolescent. As yet there is no sign of their disappearance.

Rob Barnett



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