Violin and String Quartet
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Morton Feldman's large scale work simply entitled Violin and String Quartet commences with the violin soloist contemplating the minor seventh interval A to G over and over again, in no predictable rhythmic configuration, while confronted by soft, dissonant chord clouds from the other musicians. The clouds quietly disintegrate as the entrances become more staggered. Ten minutes or so into the piece, Feldman refines the opening gestures, expanding the interval leaps, and voicing chord clusters in numerous configurations. At the 22-minute mark, Feldman arrives back where he started, but in a parallel universe, so to speak, with the aforementioned minor seventh transformed into a major ninth (G to A), the chord clouds fuller of body, and increased rhythmic momentum. Before you've noticed, the harmonic motion has grown more protracted when the time comes to switch discs. Continue listening, and you'll arrive at a soothing, yet somewhat darker lower-register variation on the opening material at the 13-minute mark (remember, we're on disc two). There's a poignant stretch of music between 26 and 31 minutes where the slowly reiterated chords take on a lush harmonic character, giving way to a section made up of staggered major ninths moving in opposite directions. Faster moving sustained chords ensue, but now coloured by discreetly placed pizzicatos, the first plucked notes we've heard in this piece. Soon all the instruments stack up the aforementioned minor ninth, sometimes in canon, sometimes together, all to intense, claustrophobic effect. Fortunately, an oasis in the form of a steady procession of short-breathed sustained chords lies ahead. On paper this music looks simple to play, even sight-read, yet to control the composer's pinpointed dynamics, rhythms, and articulations is easier said than done, let alone holding a listener's attention for nearly two hours. Suffice it to say that violinist Christina Fong and the Rangzen Quartet succeed on all these counts, and make a compelling case for this previously unrecorded score. --Jed Distler, Gramophone, August 2002
This premiere recording of the companion to Feldman's widely known Piano and String Quartet follows on from violinist Christina Fong's scintillating recordings of Cage's valedictory number pieces. Fong has a penchant for dealing with the demands of pacing extended structures, and with The Rangzen Quartet she brilliantly captures Feldman's icy introspection and weeping lyricism. The first hour finds the solo violin pushing against the tart, asphyxiating harmonies of the string quartet, filling the listener with expectant intrigue. In its final hour, Feldman's harmonies and textures gradually pare down until shellshocked pizzicato figures push against blurred tunings. It's quite a trip -- disturbing and fulfilling in equal measure -- making a revealing contrast to the erotic sound world of Piano and String Quartet. --Philip Clark, The Wire, June 2002
Two hours of sighs, whispers, murmurs, and tremolos from a string quartet etherealized further by a solo violin floating above. That's what you get with this epic anti-epic from 1985 by Morton Feldman. Feldman's admirers regard him as the most significant composer of our time. It's a hard case to make for something so minimal; this piece in particular seems less like music than music's ghost -- a pure essence that denies anything remotely substantial or corporeal. 'Let's get out of here before it starts to develop,' Debussy once said to a friend following the exposition in the opening of a Beethoven symphony; Feldman's music is the ultimate manifestation of that stance. Unlike Webern, who sometimes did develop his tiny cells, if only for a moment, Feldman creates the smallest musical materials imaginable, only to have them slowly vanish. Still, Feldman is a distinct, instantly recognizable voice (or anti-voice) -- something that cannot be said for many recent composers. This is the first recording of the Violin and String Quartet, making it an important release. One thing that is not minimal about this work is the length, but the Rangzen Quartet, enhanced by the spectral violin of Christina Fong, seems undaunted by two hours of musical self-denial. With elegant professionalism, they work hard to say as little as possible. Feldman may not be the greatest composer of our time, as his cultish advocates assert, but he may well be the greatest for insomniacs. This mysterious, wispy stuff is very close to a pure dream state, perhaps the best 3 AM music ever. --Jack Sullivan, American Record Guide, July/August 2002
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Top customer reviews
As always, Christina Fong adds even more clarity, subtlety, and a superior sense of melodic direction
to the ensemble. The sound on this recording is superb.
The Morton Feldman 2001 first release of his Violin and String Quartet masterpiece is one of these. For those who enjoy specializing in the different and avant garde, the music for meditation genres, and the fantastic "weirdness" of eclecticism, this two CD work is definitely a must buy.
Feldman (1926 - 1987) was born in Brooklyn, and became a leader of so-called "indeterminate music" with the New York School of composers. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Kiev in the Ukraine, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia before the First World War.
Feldman didn't begin composing until the 1950s, but eventually found serious inspiration from the artwork of the abstract expressionists. Music combined with art became a permanent motif among these pioneers. With encouragement from John Cage and others, Feldman began to write pieces which had no relation to compositional systems of the past. These were such as the constraints of traditional harmony or the serial technique.
He experimented with non-standard systems of musical notation, often using grids in his scores. He'd specify how many notes should be played at a certain time, but not which ones. Feldman's experiments with the use of chance in his composition in turn inspired John Cage to write pieces like the Music of Changes, where the notes to be played are determined by consulting the I Ching.
In 1973, at the age of 47, Feldman became the Edgard Varèèse Professor (a title of his own devising) at the University at Buffalo. He married the Canadian composer Barbara Monk shortly before his death. He died from pancreatic cancer in 1987 at his home in Buffalo, New York, after fighting for his life for three months.
Feldman's individual talent is best explained from when he began to produce his longer works. These are often in one continuous movement, rarely shorter than half an hour in length, and even much longer. Philip Guston (1984) is around four hours and, most extreme, the String Quartet II (1983) is over six hours long without a break. Typically, these pieces maintain a very slow developmental pace (if not static), and tend to be made up of mostly very quiet sounds. Feldman himself once explained that quiet sounds had begun to be the only ones that interested him.
OgreOgress provides us with one of Feldman's choicest works with this Violin and String Quartet (1985). The hauntingly beautiful strings offer a full range of listening enjoyment. Minimalist solos, mood enhancing duets, and ultimately vibrant full quintet renditions occur from beginning to end. Both CDs are more than enough, and combined they provide a wonderful two hour total experience of mood enhancements.
Quiet meditation, background sensation, or just plain personal listening can all be found here. Slowly but surely this will take the listener on another Hearts of Space journey to inner and/or outer dimensions. The Rangzen Quartet has performed to just about the highest levels by any musical standards. This reviewer gives it all a five star rating. Order a set and enjoy the exceptional experience. You definitely won't be disappointed.