Feldman Edition 11
On Time and the Instrumental Factor (1969)
Voice and Instruments (1972)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Despite the explosion of Feldman’s popularity and recordings of his works in recent years, his orchestral music has not received the attention it deserves. This new CD presents four first recordings plus the first recording of Intersection I with full orchestra — all performed in the studio, a coproduction between Deutschlandradio and Mode.
Intersection I is a pivotal early graphic score, presented here in a realization by Samuel Clay Birmaher. Muscular and dynamic, it sounds like nothing else in Feldman’s oeuvre — the raw sound of an orchestra untamed.
Structures and On Time and the Instrumental Factor are sister works from a transitional period in Feldman’s music. Both pieces explore an atmosphere of suspended time, with the instruments acting like an orchestra of tolling bells.
Voice and Instruments puts the sibylline voice in a wordless dialogue with the orchestra. Emphasis here is on the beauty of a single sound, with each moment connected to the next by a spider’s thread.
Orchestra is a walk through the orchestral landscape. Patterns come and go of their own accord as the music moves into unexplored territories. An important bridge between Feldman’s middle and late works.
Liner notes by Samuel Clay Birmaher.
The American conductor Brad Lubman was Assistant Conductor to Oliver Knussen at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1989-94, and has since emerged as an unusually versatile conductor of orchestras and ensembles all over the world. He has worked with a great variety of illustrious musical figures including Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Tilson Thomas, and John Zorn.
The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin was founded in 1946 in the American sector of Berlin as the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester. As its first principal conductor, from 1948, Ferenc Fricsay established the orchestra’s future course: commitment to contemporary and stylish interpretation of the traditional repertoire. Their expertise with contemporary music is evident in this committed and warm recording.
The next release in Mode Records’ Feldman Edition — a compilation of works for orchestra, with Brad Lubman conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra Berlin — will bring us tantalizingly close to having Feldman’s entire published ouput available on recording. Chris Villars’s most recent list of unrecorded pieces contained thirteen items. The new disc knocks off four of them: Structures (for orchestra), On Time and the Instrumental Factor, Voice and Instruments, and Orchestra. These are exceptional performances by Lubman and company, lacking the tentative, tiptoeing quality that sometimes mars large-ensemble attempts at Feldman. The program is filled out with a large-orchestra rendition of the graphic score Intersections I. Surely it’s time now to record Feldman’s arrangement of the “Alabama Song”!
Who would you put on a list of the 20th Century’s Great Orchestrators? Ravel for sure, along with Bartók, Varèse and the incomparable Stravinsky (whom just about everybody’s ripped off since). Allow yourself a little step back into the end of the 19th century and you can add Strauss and Debussy,... and more recently there’s Ligeti, Carter, Penderecki (early Penderecki, not the turgid Catholic stuff) and, if you stray over the fence a bit, Morricone. I doubt Morton Feldman would figure on your list, but you should listen to this magnificent new disc, the eleventh in Mode’s Feldman Edition, and be prepared to change your mind. Feldman is best known, of course, for his chamber music, particularly the solo piano pieces and the "poetic extremism" (Birtwistle) of the long, late instrumental works, but anyone who’s spent any time with Coptic Light and For Samuel Beckett will know how good he was at combining instrumental timbres with consummate mastery.
Having said that, the first piece on offer here, 1951’s graphic score Intersection I, wasn't actually orchestrated by Feldman, but by Samuel Clay Birmaher, and though it’s played, like everything else here, with great finesse by the Deutsches-Symhonie-Orchester Berlin under the baton of Brad Lubman, it sounds a little stilted rhythmically and rather woolly, a tad overloaded with pitch information. In contrast, the two works from the 60s, 1962’s Structures and 1969’s On Time and the Instrumental Factor, despite their chromaticism, are never claggy. The scoring is delicate but rich, and the characteristic Feldman touches in evidence – the forlorn timpani rolls and tubular bell chimes, the isolated low harp notes and violin harmonics, the gorgeous Webernian micro-melodies rising like wisps of smoke. Orchestra, which dates from 1976 not 1979 as the back of the disc would have you believe, is thinner in texture and more differentiated in timbre – Feldman is more interested in keeping instrumental families together, Stravinsky-like, rather than mixing colours – and a more challenging listen, with its rare excursions into rough flutter-tonguing fortissimo appearing from and disappearing into nowhere.
Amazingly, none of these pieces has appeared before on record, and, for 1972’s Voice and Instruments, that's nothing short of scandalous, as it's vintage Sexy MF, with every sonority impeccably placed, absolutely exquisite in its pitch logic – track that D and E flat throughout, thrill at how the composer moves them from instrument to instrument, the voice (hats off Martha Cluver!) weaving between them. One of the discoveries of the year, if not the century (so far): you can't afford to be without it".
Nouvelle opportunité de découvrir le genial compositeur américain.
Orchestra réunit cinq pieces écrites entre 1951 et 1976, certaines engregistrées pour la première fois. Dans la plus récente, qui donne son titre au recueil, le Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester de Berlin pren plac dans un vaisseau fantôme don’t la course lente influence les musiciens. Le silence les tente, au point qu’ils laissent le piano dire de quoi retourne cette musique pour orchestre don’t Feldman a renversé les codes. Les oeuvres plus anciennes sont aussi des histories de dissonances et de temps délayé, de notes en perdition et de sons en sous-main.— Guillaume Belhomme, Les inrockuptibles, 9 May 2012
Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was a pal of John Cage’s but while they share some qualities (inspiration from modern art, dance, etc), Morty (from Brooklyn) is a bit closer to the classi-tradition. The compositions here span 1951-1976, going from the musicians vs. sound conflagration “Intersection” to the eerily lovely “Voice and Instruments” and “Orchestra,” both of which have a pattern-like intricacy not unlike a spider’s web or the formation of a snowflake. While perhaps not the very “best” Feldman in the marketplace, Orchestra may be the best entry point to this magnificently mystifying sound-world.
— Mark Keresman, ICON, May 2012
Morton FELDMAN: Orchestra
Misty, glistening, muffled, evanescent – the qualities of the sounds stay much the same throughout (except in the problematic realization of a graph score, Intersection 1, which is also problematic in its uncharacteristic loudness). Nevertheless, the pieces have their own identities – most markedly so, of course, in Voice and Instruments 1 (1972), which adds a wordless soprano to its Classical-scale orchestra, in this case the magically pure voice of Martha Cluver, encountering the woodwinds in some breathtaking moments. Structures (1960-62), On Time and the Instrumental Factor (1969) and Orchestra (1979) are all for full-scale orchestral resources without soloist, but with differences that have to do with a growing sophistication in the handling not only of sound but of time.
This is where the metaphor of lost memory comes in, because there is a growing sense through these pieces of an effort (inevitably failing) at retrieval. All three move slowly, but where Structures seems to be motivated by exploration, finding new things, the later works sound like attempts to resummon shapes, gestures that have been lost. On Time, which like Structures lasts around eight minutes, appears never to come near what it is searching for, remaining in a wonderful cloud of resonant uncertainty, but both Voice and Instruments 1 and Orchestra, in their longer durations, get glimpses. Orchestra gets glimpses, too, of the fuzzy repetitions of Feldman to come.
The paths of all these works, whether leading forwards or backwards, are marvelously sustained by Lubman and his players, and the sounds – some shimmering like metal resonances, some dampened and lustreless – are ineffable."— Paul Griffiths
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