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Art Lange
Fanfare, November 2006

The reissue is Morton Feldman’s mesmerizing String Quartet

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, February 2006

The world premiere of Morton Feldman's 1979 String Quartet was in May 1980 in New York City. It lasted well over one and a half hours. A month later, the same group - Benjamin Hudson's Columbia Quartet - performed it at Feldman's June in Buffalo Festival at the University at Buffalo. When he talked about it later at a lecture at Cal Arts, writes Douglas Cohen in these disc notes, its composition, he said, was like "I'm watching some bugs on a slide and I'm just watching how I feel. . . . So the string quartet has a lot to do with that kind of watching and letting it go. And the reason the piece is so long is that I got into dangerous territory. I let things go. . ."

This recording by former UB Creative Associate Hudson's group first appeared in 1994 on the Koch label, but it's appearance now in budget-priced Naxos is a godsend to venturesome ears and spirits.

Chistopher DeLaurenti
The Stranger (Seattle, WA), February 2006

Naxos just reissued an excellent recording of this 78-minute opus in which muted strings quietly exhale vaporous harmonics while hollow bow strokes toll gently, as if marooned from all other music.

Alan Artner
Chicago Tribune, January 2006

In the late 1970s, Morton Feldman, the maverick American who had written many slow, quiet orchestral pieces that suggested the delicate movement of Alexander Calder's mobiles, turned to chamber music and works of greater length. This quartet--in the present performance lasting more than 78 minutes--was the first of them. It is a single uninterrupted movement constructed from modules consisting of from three to eight notes. Each module has affinities with the atomized expressions of Anton Webern, but some are repeated while others appear and fade away on a large canvas that is most concerned not with form but scale. The effect is of a scroll painting in which all elements have to be held in the mind because the entire composition is too big to be seen at once. This can be rough going for listeners, though not nearly as rough as in Feldman's Second Quartet, which has a duration of five hours. The present recording was the work's first, made in 1993 with an ensemble including the first violinist from the 1980 premiere. The mesmeric performance still has the field to itself, this time (thanks to the Naxos reissue) at a bargain price.

Phillip Scott

The Group for Contemporary Music made several CDs of American music for Koch in the early 1990s, the above being one of them. Now here it is, reappearing as part of Naxos's "American Classics" series. I expect one of Fanfare's resident Feldman specialists covered it back then-I think Mike Silverton was doing it in those days-but I have been unable to locate any review. According to the CD information, this was a world premiere recording.

Although not to be confused with his monumentally long second string quartet, this late work of Feldman's still runs for almost 80 minutes. (Well, it doesn't exactly run.) Readers unfamiliar with this composer's music but interested in experimenting at the low Naxos price should dispense with any normal idea of the passing of time. Feldman's work unfolds at a snail's pace, with the result that every musical incident is examined in minute, close-up detail. Imagine walking down your garden path to the mailbox; now imagine doing it on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass, taking over an hour to complete the journey. You would know a heck of a lot more about the nature of your garden path by the end of it.

Of course, it's not entirely as simple as that. Feldman understood the big picture, form-wise: the apparent randomness of the sounds he dwells on in his own good time is kept in balance by a fierce musical intelligence. These sounds include rocking motifs, chords, and often even single notes, usually separated by moments of complete silence. Feldman requests the quartet to play without vibrato and, most of the time, using mutes. Much of the material consists of high harmonics. It is nearly all pianissimo or softer, except for some sudden loud interruptions-for example, at 26:00 and 33:30 respectively. (The Eastern-bloc composer Kancheli appears to have known his Feldman. Unheralded fortes are a fingerprint of his as well.) As the work progresses, earlier motifs or textures are revisited and developed, providing at least an unconscious sense of structure. In the end, the painstaking process undertaken together by the composer, the performers, and the listener creates a unique, mesmerizing context where sudden shifts of emphasis are almost seismic. The fortes mentioned above seem earth shattering. The occasional consonant harmony, unnoticed in another context, becomes pure balm. The slightest rhythmic acceleration feels like panic. High, quiet harmonics from the solo violin assume the cloak of unbearable loneliness.

For those readers already conversant with Feldman's world, it need only be said that this performance seems to me as good as it could possibly be. (I don't have access to a score.) The internal balance is finely judged, and all four members of the group must have spent many hours in meditation to be so at home in this time span. By the way, the stalwart players are Benjamin Hudson and Carol Zeavin, violins; Lois Martin, viola; and Joshua Gordon, cello. Recorded sound is first-rate. One can only hope Naxos will reissue the other recordings in the Koch series, particularly those of Wolpe and Wuorinen.

Morton Feldman's mind worked in a manner unlike that of any other composer. This fact alone makes him important and his music riveting.

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