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DVD-Audio Review

For Feldman

  • Morton Feldman:
  • Two Pieces for String Quartet
  • For String Quartet
  • Three Pieces for String Quartet
  • David Toub: mf
  • David Kotlowy: of Shade to Light
  • John Prokop: New England, Late Summer
  • David Beardsley: As Beautiful As A Crescent Of A New Moon On A Cloudless Spring Evening
Rangzen Quartet
Christina Fong
OgreOgress Audio DVD 634479279201 95:39 96kHz/24-bit LPCM Stereo
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As its name suggests, this program is a tribute to influential American composer Morton Feldman who died in 1987. Although their music doesn't sound at all alike, Feldman and John Cage influenced each other at several points in their careers, and experimented with similar devices, such as aleatoric writing. Feldman eventually became less process-oriented than Cage, although that didn't prevent others from trying to find processes even in his late works, which are almost exclusively slow and quiet, and which can last for several hours.

Feldman composed the pointillistic Two Pieces for String Quartet in 1954 and For String Quartet in 1956. By later standards, these are short works – not one piece lasts longer than five minutes – yet Feldman's rarefied language is already in place, his use of indeterminacy in these works notwithstanding. In 1956, he combined both works to make Three Pieces for String Quartet. All of these works are performed on this disc (!), which means that we hear the same music twice, albeit in different contexts (and in different orders).

The works by Kotlowy and Prokop come closest to Feldman's sound-worlds. of Shade to Light, composed in 2001, pays tribute not only to Feldman, but also to Schoenberg, who died 50 years earlier. Kotlowy uses a pitch series from Schoenberg's Opus 33 Klavierstücke as the basis for this very contemplative work, but he deploys Schoenberg's pitches in a Feldman-like manner over the course of 14 minutes. John Prokop wrote New England, Late Summer in 2003, and used it at his wedding as background music, while vows were exchanged. This must have been a very strange wedding, as I find New England, Late Summer to be the most emotional work on this disc, and the emotion that it produces in me is one of profound melancholy, perhaps because of the way in which Prokop imprecisely repeats his ideas over and over again.

In contrast, David Toub's mf is a spunky, busy bit of minimalism, as minimalism was back in the 1960s, before Philip Glass turned into a softie. "mf" stands for Morton Feldman, the dynamic marking of mezzo forte, and also "an epithet that needs not be repeated here," in the words of the composer.

All of the aforementioned works are played with skill and heroism by the Rangzen Quartet, whose members are Christopher Martin, Sieu Mahn Phong (violins), Heather Storeng (viola), and Karen Krummel (cello). The disc closes, however, with a performance by Christina Fong of David Beardsley's As Beautiful As A Crescent Of A New Moon On A Cloudless Spring Evening. (The title is taken from a statement made by Feldman himself.) Although this information is included nowhere in the accompanying material, it appears that Fong's performance of this de facto quartet is the result of overdubbing. In this 30-minute work, string drones are the dominant feature, and the movement drops to almost a standstill, allowing one to hear the tiniest details as Fong slowly draws her bow across the strings. The effect is hypnotizing, particularly when interference patterns are generated between two notes that are similar in pitch. Fong's powers of concentration must be incredible. Throughout, Glenn Freeman's engineering also is as admirable as the repertoire and the performances. OgreOgress discs are available through

Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle