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Classical CD review: Morton Feldman, ‘Violin and Orchestra’

MORTON FELDMAN:
Violin and Orchestra

Carolin Widmann, violin

Frankfurt Radio Symphony
Orchestra

Emilio Pomàrico, conductor

(ECM)

Imagine a standard Romantic concerto. A soloist and an orchestra unfurl melody after melody, first pitched against one another, then working in lockstep, all of it leading from a stormy beginning to a jubilant conclusion. It’s a familiar paradigm, so it’s easy to call it to mind. Got it?

You now have in your mind the complete inverse of Morton Feldman’s Violin and Orchestra (1979). Only the names of a soloist and an ensemble remain from the concerto paradigm. At around an hour, it’s actually one of Feldman’s shorter late works, some of which can last between four and six hours. But with those pieces it shares an almost complete absence of conventional musical material; there are instead repeated patterns and irregular rhythms.

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It’s almost impossible to speak of musical “progress” in a piece like this; instead, you drift from one set of sounds to another. Most of these are very soft, but they lodge themselves in an attentive listener’s mind and substitute for memorable tunes or vivid clashes between the two forces. They are, if you will, the payoff for the listening experience, which is why Feldman’s music infuriates on casual listening but rewards a patient, trancelike absorption.

The excellent performers here offer the chance for exactly that. Widmann, Pomàrico, and the Frankfurt Orchestra creep quietly yet precisely through the minefield that is Feldman’s score. The result is remarkable for anyone willing to abandon him or herself to it.

DAVID WEININGER

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