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Multi-Genre Music

This second volume of ‘Music for Piano and Strings by Morton Feldman’ brings together two fairly lengthy pieces for piano & Strings. Both pieces on offer here date from Feldman’s latter work in the mid to late 80’s, and both pieces here are played with wonderful precision, feeling & angular grace by pianist John Tilbury & The Smith Quartet.

This release comes in the form of a DVD, so both pieces could be fitted on one disc. The two pieces on offer here are: ‘ Patterns In a Chromatic Field’ from 1981, and ‘Piano, violin, Viola, Cello’ from 1987- which was one of the last pieces Feldman wrote. The wonderful performances of both pieces were recorded live at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary music in 2006. The DVD comes in a cd sized gatefold slip sleeve which also includes a eight page booklet, which features an essay on both pieces by The Wire writer & composer Philip Clark. The DVD offers up a total running time of two hours & fifty six minutes.

First up we have ‘Patterns in a Chromatic Field’ which brings together pianist John Tilbury with cellist Deirdre Copper, for an hour & twenty seven minute version of this Feldman piece from 1981. The piece is quite active & shifting, by Feldman standards, with the pair altering the pace & patterns in a effortless manner. It all starts with a fairly fast angular/ rhythmic mixture of sawing cello work & stabbing/ jerking piano notation. But as the piece progress the pair slip from: eerier ‘n’ slowed piano pitter patters & cello drifts, onto to cello string picks & jaunting yet haunting piano runs, through to low end piano runs & sawing cello textures, onto creepy ‘n’ tumbling piano patterns that brood on a angular sea of cello dwell, and beyond. The patterns seemingly shift from one to another every few minutes or so, but sometimes a single pattern with stay in place as long as five minutes- this seemingly un-predictable nature of the piece really makes it a wonderful ride, and the near on hour & a half runtime seems to fly by.

The second & last piece here is ‘Piano, violin, Viola, Cello’, and as it title suggest it’s built around: piano( played by John Tilbury), Violin( played by Darragh Morgan), Viola( played by Nick Pendlebury), and Cello( by Deirdre Copper). This version of the piece runs for one hour & twenty eight minutes, and compared with the first track this is a lot slower, less shifting & more haunting in its feel. The piece drifts into sonic view with a wonderful slow-mo mixture of the carefully placed, eerier & spaced piano notation, which are hovered under by a brooding & skeletal string drifts/ebbs. The whole track drifts along in a captivating & chillingly slow ‘n’ ebbing manner, with sparse piano notation either drifting on it’s on or been wrapped in a sad/ contemplative slowed/ thin string saw or ebb. Later on in the tracks life time the string elements seem to hover more on their own creating sombre sustains. Once again there are patterns present here, but they stay at the same deeply slowed & considered pace through-out, so you literal find yourself slowing down to the tracks lingering & sombre pace.

Both tracks here are played with both wonderful precision, feeling & thoughtfulness- I’ve heard quite a few of Feldman’s pieces played by John Tilbury in the past, and he really does seem to nail the slow, sad yet captivating feeling of Feldman’s work perfectly. Yet he’s also very at home playing the composer more angular & rhythmic work too- which of course both of these tracks showcase. And of course the other players here also manage to put on great considered & controlled performances too.

All told this is a wonderfully recorded & played collection of Morton Feldman’s later pieces, and I can see this of course appealing to fans of the great mans work. But it’s also a excellent introduction to the work of one of the 20th century greatest and most dramatic minimalist/modern classical composers.

Roger Batty June 2012