Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Viola in My Life: I;
Marek Konstantynowicz (va); Cikada Ens members;
Christian Eggen, cond;
ECM 001081702 (39:37)
As Paul Griffiths states in his reliably perceptive notes, Morton Feldman came to a turning point around 1970. Having spent almost two decades writing music whose varying aspects were left indeterminate (pitch or rhythm or both), he decided to trust his ear—which was immaculate—and begin a pursuit for the remainder of his life of the “byoodifull” (yes, he
pronounce it that way). The result was some of the most ravishing music of the second half of the 20th century. Delicate, refined, sensuous, yet always clean, clear, and transparent: Feldman in some ways seems now like a natural heir of Debussy. And the linchpin to this transformation seems to have been the four-part
Viola in My Life
series, written in less than a year during 1970–71, an outpouring that seems almost like an “improvisation on paper.”
With the viola always as soloist, the works’ accompaniments comprise two chamber ensembles (Nos. I and II, with No. I’s core of flute, violin, cello, piano, and percussion being augmented by clarinet in No. II, with piano switching to celesta), viola and piano in No. III, and orchestra in No IV. When one listens to all four in succession, there is a dreamlike continuity. There are recurrent motives (IV in particular sounds to me like almost an arrangement of II), including the cuckoo clock of his childhood piano teacher Madame Press, and fragments of Jewish folk song or liturgy similar to the ending of
. There’s a repeating climactic figure in IV that is one of the loudest, most dramatic moments in the composer’s entire output. The orchestration is totally original, yet also equally natural. Feldman’s courage goes in two directions: On the one hand, he was willing to write a music far simpler in its apparent surface than almost any modernist composer of his time. One the other, he risked a new level of expressivity and beauty in these pieces which bespeaks a latent Romanticism he finally accepted, no matter what his avant-garde colleagues might think.
These are wonderful performances, and ECM once again creates a sonic environment that is not too lush, yet enhances the inherent sensuality of the music. There is no other release that combines all four pieces. New World 80657, which I reviewed in
30:4, presents I, II, and III, conducted by the composer and as such a priceless document. But without the amazing orchestral IV, you’re missing the capper. As almost always with Feldman, you’ll have to accept some duplication. If readers have already perused my Want List, they’ll find this disc there. The timing is admittedly a little short, but the program is so carefully conceived and connected that I don’t mind. You’ll rarely experience 40 minutes of greater bliss.
FANFARE: Robert Carl