Notes and Editorial Reviews
FELDMAN Violin and Orchestra • Carolin Widmann (vn); Emilio Pomàrico, cond; Frankfurt Radio SO • ECM 2283 (50:41)
In 1967 Morton Feldman, then age 41, composed a piece he called In Search of an Orchestration. He apparently found what he was looking for, because during the 1970s he wrote a series of distinctive, idiosyncratic orchestral works, including six that featured solo instruments but rejected the traditional concerto format, which he replaced with an abstract
flow of freely-associated events. Violin and Orchestra (1979) is the last and largest of these, and its originality lies in the fact that it is as far removed from such classic 20th-century concertos as those of Berg or Bartók as it is the 19th-century models of Tchaikovsky or Brahms. Due to the nature of Feldman’s intuitive approach to composition, an aesthetic significantly influenced by his close friendship with several abstract expressionist painters, his music of this period favors a shifting focus on instrumental color and texture over melodic continuity and development, and a transparency of process rather than a formal logic. Violin and Orchestra sounds to be constructed event after event, with lines and shapes alternately blending and contrasting, creating an orchestral fabric that pulsates and shimmers and, like a mid-period canvas by Guston or De Kooning, gradually reveals a wealth of fragmented detail within a totally static environment.
Though unpredictable, Violin and Orchestra is not completely unfamiliar. For one thing, it often conveys a mysterious, dramatic atmosphere, as strings suggest shadows, distant bells chime in piano chords, and bass voicings rumble. For another, one may notice evocative—albeit brief and allusive—musical references to Schoenberg (in the melismatic solo writing), Mahler (is that meant to be a funeral cortège in the repeated chords with bass drum?), Stravinsky (echoes of Le Sacre in the percussive rhythms and wind/brass harmonies), Xenakis (the string glissandos and brass eruptions), and Feldman himself (the see-saw motif which occurs in several of his later works). But the effect is nothing like collage; instead, the constantly changing viewpoint and fluctuating foreground and background (the piece is called Violin and Orchestra, not Violin with Orchestra) offer an experience that is, to my mind, like moving one’s perspective across the surface of a huge abstract expressionist canvas, discovering one fascinating detail after another. The whole is indeed the sum of its parts. Violin and Orchestra is an unusual and brilliant achievement.
Having only previously heard excerpts of other performances, I have no basis of comparison for this release. Suffice to say, violinist Widmann, conductor Pomàrico, and the Frankfurt orchestra realize an account of this demanding, multifaceted score that is delicate and nuanced, but with a razor-sharp edge that keeps the music taut and keen. Though composed in 1979, Violin and Orchestra waited five years for its world premiere. This recording was made in 2009 but has only now been released. Better late than never.
FANFARE: Art Lange
I’ve said it before: Morton Feldman’s music is the ultimate cure if you’re having trouble falling asleep. This isn’t because it’s boring—far from it. Indeed, the music is fascinating, but it captures your attention to the point where you simply drift with it (because it does drift), and if you happen to be tired and sleepless you will ultimately drift off with it. Guaranteed. What makes this fact even more intriguing is that this isn’t by any means easy music. Of course it is thoroughly atonal, even microtonal. The solo part consists of screechy bits on high, low fragments of melody further down, and weird gurgles in between. The orchestra is mostly quiet, and saturated with strange, indescribable colors. The whole thing lasts about 50 minutes in one mostly slow, very quiet movement.
So why listen at all, even if you are already exhausted? Well, the difference between Feldman and his screech-bloop colleagues is that he just had this amazing feeling for texture and sheer sound; and for reasons that remain utterly inexplicable his music hangs together and consistently grips the attention. I do wonder if he really expected listeners to stay focused for as long as he asks, but if you do have the fortitude to stick with it until the end you won’t feel that your time would have been better spent elsewhere.
This is Violin and Orchestra’s premiere recording, and it is excellent: sensitive, nuanced, mysterious, and well sustained. It’s pointless to speak of soloist Carolin Widmann’s beauty of tone in the high screechy bits, never mind the rest of the decidedly non-virtuosic violin part. She plays with the requisite hushed intensity and dedication to the cause. The same holds true of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Emilio Pomàrico. This couldn’t have been easy, but they make it sound so, and the sonics are well balanced and unusually free of extraneous noise (important in music that is so quiet). Lovable? Maybe not; but imposing, and impossible to ignore while you’re awake.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Violin and Orchestra by Morton Feldman
Carolin Widmann (Violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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