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Morton Feldman: Violin and Orchestra
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German violinist Carolin Widmann's widely acclaimed ECM recordings have traversed a broad arc of music - from Schubert and Schumann to Tüür and Xenakis. Here she turns her attention to one of the pivotal works of New York composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987). Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1979, marked a new direction, with an almost painterly attention to detail in slowly unfolding music.
It is hard to say what kind of piece Feldman's Violin and Or¬chestra really is; it is certainly not a concerto for violin and orchestra, even though the solo violin part is at least as demanding as those by virtuosi such as Pietro Locatelli and Niccolò Paganini or composers such as Brahms, Schönberg, Stravinsky and Berg. Feldman's piece has no "brilliant" passages, no trace of acrobatics. In fact, the soloist should sit in the orchestra, not stand in front of it The violin rarely ever emerges in a "soloistic" way and is never accompanied at all; its music seems much more to be subdued by the orchestra, before it re-emerges, in highest register, like music from a distant star, like an echo sounding from unlimited spaces - or else engendering echoes from the orchestra itself.
In this landmark Feldman recording, Carolin Widmann moves inside the glowing colour-field of sound with great delicacy and feeling, exploring the subtle orchestral texture, crafted together with conductor Emilio Pomàrico and the players of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Personnel: Carolin Widmann (violin), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Emilio Pomàrico (conductor)
'Compelling...this performance is perfectly judged: Carolin Widmann is a fabulously assured and poetic soloist, taking minute care over the smallest, apparently most insignificant details, and Emilio Pomarico ensures that the orchestral playing is equally refined and scrupulous. It's a beautiful, haunting disc.' -- The Guardian * * * * *
'Carolin Widmann's performance here is exemplary in its eschewal of virtuosic gesture, instead quietly navigating the abstractly shifting sound-bed of the orchestra like a fish finding its place within a sea current.' -- The Independent * * * *
'A gloriously abstract tapestry of unprecedented sounds. A compelling journey every time.' -- The Sunday Times
'The slowness is mesmeric...Everything is so fragmented, so glacial, broken down into music's barest elements...Feldman's writing is remarkable, and there are points when you're scratching your head while trying to work out how a particular effect has been realised...Wondrous.'--The Arts Desk
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There are many interesting features in this piece. It's the opposite of those 18th and 19th century sonata allegros that began with a brief slow introduction. Instead it starts right out with animated filigrees in the violin accompanied by sharp orchestral chords, then quickly settles down into the stereotypical slow and sparse Feldman landscape. At about 31:50 there's an unusual (for Feldman) passage built from block chords in violin and winds moving in parallel motion. This is followed by very faint glissandi in the upper orchestral strings that resemble a distant emergency siren (or something from a Penderecki or Xenakis score). The solo violin takes up this idea, leading to a remarkable passage at 33:15 that features wooden percussion sounds (xylophone, claves, wood blocks) used in a non-metric manner akin to much of Varèse's percussion writing. The parallel block chords are briefly reprised before the solo violin leads the music in a new direction.
The 46th minute brings a curious slow march with a prolonged repeating pulse: a sinister Feldmanesque procession of the dead.
The scoring in this piece reminds me of what Cardew said of Stravinsky's Agon: "The orchestra is used as a cabinet; drawers with different conbinations of instruments are pulled out, rather like the stops of an organ". This despite calling for a pretty large orchestra, with quadruple woodwinds, two harps, two pianos and four percussionists (though only three horns).
I love to put on Feldman at bedtime, and this is a fine piece to fall asleep to due to the uniformly soft dynamics. It lacks the occasional loud outburst that you find in pieces like Flute and Orchestra or the first string quartet. By all means, complement this album with Hans Zender's recording of the other four "soloist and Orchestra" pieces to give you a complete view of this neglected but important side of Feldman. Meanwhile though, dim your lights, lie back and enjoy these 50 minutes of delight.