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Feldman String Quartet

The Group for Contemporary Music

Naxos American Classics 8.559190 [78:35 mins]

Morton Feldman (1926-1987) is a very special case. Obscure and seemingly perverse to the general musical public, he was revered by his pupils and fellow composers of very different ilk. I remember Harrison Birtwistle dedicating a concert to his memory upon learning of his sudden unexpected death.

I have found Feldman's unique string quartet (1979) fascinating, but my wife found it intolerable. I have sometimes found Feldman's longer works infuriating, and not always lasted the course, q.v. the four-hour For Philip Guston at the Royal Academy of Arts. But playing the shorter Palais de Mari on the piano is an involving experience; so I leave you with an open verdict.

A late work, the String Quartet lasted well over one and a half hours at its first performance, and was nicknamed the 100 minutes quartet. The Group for Contemporary Music gets to the finishing post within 79 minutes, and I confess I took a break some half-way through.

It is spare writing for four strings; predominantly quiet with small cells of music punctuated by pauses. The strings are muted throughout, which gives it a unique timbre, with occasional louder interruptions, and some passages of pizzicato to add variety, all meticulously notated. Superficially it is uneventful music, but not minimalist because the sequences and their timings are unpredictable.

Every collection of 20th C music should have Morton Feldman represented, and this is a good one to begin with. And for those of you who have not heard Feldman's music before reading this, and are understandably hesitant, help is at hand from Naxos, who have a free registration arrangment which allows audition on line of 25% of any track from their catalogue, so click onto this link.

A quarter of 79 minutes will certainly be enough to make up your mind whether to risk £5 for purchase!



© Peter Grahame Woolf