Archive for the “OgreOgress” Category

Cage: 108, 109, 110

Chance Philharmonic

Tamami Tono, sho

Glenn Freeman, conch shells

OgreOgress Productions

This represents the first recording of 108, 109 and 110, which are additional “number pieces” by Cage. The numbers represent the number of performers in each piece, often with superscripts to indicate the number of that particular number piece (eg, one8 is the eighth piece for solo performer). The number pieces are a series (over 50 in all) of late Cage works that often involve long tones in various combinations. The number pieces are an acquired taste, like most Cage; you either like many of them or you don’t. Personally, I find many of Cage’s number pieces to be absolutely beautiful and among the best music in his vast oeuvre. Four, which was written for string quartet, is Cage at his best. And I think that the three pieces on this album also are examples of Cage at the top of his game.

108 was written in 1991 and represents the largest forces involved in a number piece. It represents the ground material for all three works on this 131-minute 96kHz|24bit Audio DVD, since 109 is 108 combined with One8, while 110 is 108 combined with Two3. Also interestingly, the total duration of 108 (and thus, all three works on the album) is 43:30. Maybe that has something to do with the famous/infamous work 4’33”. Or not. That’s the beauty of Cage; he was always unpredictable, and everything he did had many potential meanings.

Now consider another interesting facet to this album; you get to hear the same piece (108) thrice, but it will always sound somewhat different, somewhat familiar, since it is played by itself and then combined with two other pieces. To me, that represents a similar concept to Nancarrow’s Study #48, in which the third movement consists of the first two played together, or Lubomyr Melnyk’s The Lund-St. Petri Symphony where two pieces are also played simultaneously. I also think it was put best by Glenn Freeman, who wrote me that “what john cage was going for in the number pieces … endless variation, but always recognizable … for instance, if one watches a busy chicago street every day during rush hour we see the same thing, but, it is also always different.”

So now to the music. There are some amazing parts in all three pieces, particularly (at least for me), 109. The use of the sho and conch shells is interesting, but it is the chordal structures and multiple chance permutations of the combinations of various notes that really work for me. The performances are first rate, and this is an essential album for anyone interested in Cage, his number pieces, and/or wants to experience some of the most important music of the last two decades.

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Strings, Keyboard, Percussion, Voices, Horn

Karen Krummel (cello), Glenn Freeman (percussion), Paul Hersey (keyboards), Christina Fong (violin), Debora Petrina (piano/celeste),Paul Austin (French horn), Gwendolyn Faasen (voice), Alicia Eppinga (cello), Brian Craig (voice), Barbara Witham McCargar (voice)

1. Morton Feldman: Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] (1948) for cello and piano 1. Allegro [:26]
2. Morton Feldman: Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] (1948) for cello and piano 2. Intermezzo [1:18]
3. Morton Feldman: Extensions 5 (1953) for 2 cellos [4:21]
4. Morton Feldman: Two Instruments (1958) for horn and cello [13:26]
5. Morton Feldman: Wind [For Naomi Newman (text by Boris Pasternak)] (1960) for voice and piano [1:31]
6. Morton Feldman: Followe Thy Faire Sunne [text by Thomas Campion] (1962) for voice and chime [1:54]
7. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste I [9:57]
8. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste II [4:41]
9. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste III [1:07]
10. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste IV [5:37]
11. Morton Feldman: For Stockhausen, Cage, Stravinsky and Mary Sprinson (1972) for cello and piano [:33]
12. Barbara Monk Feldman: Duo for Piano and Percussion (1988) [12:49]
13. Barbara Monk Feldman: The Gentlest Chord [text by Rainer Maria Wilke] (1991) for voice [3:02]
14. Barbara Monk Feldman: Clear Edge (1993) for piano [4:59]
15. Barbara Monk Feldman: Pour un Nuage Violet [after Marguerite Clerbout] (1998) for violin and cello [24:33]

OgreOgress Productions (DVD-A)

I had heard about this project a few years ago on the vertical thoughts listserv. At first, I wasn’t sure much of this represented music Morton Feldman wanted heard-it seemed like music that was fragmentary, or else possibly discarded by Feldman, and perhaps only of real interest to musicologists and die-hard Feldmanites like those of us on the listserv. I’m delighted to say that this is not at all the case. Indeed, this disc represents a badly needed addition to the Feldman discography. While I’m delighted by the multiple recordings of Triadic Memories and For John Cage, there remain several works by Feldman that remain unrecorded, and the list has been winnowed down thanks to this album. Yet unreleased works include:

1943 Jubilee (string orchestra)
1943 Night (string orchestra)
1945 [Composition] for string orchestra (no basses)
194? I Loved You Once (voice, string quartet)
1946 Sonatina for Cello and Piano (3 movements)
1949 [or 1959] (458-0808) Lost Love (voice, piano)
194? [Composition] for piano
1953 Intersection (piano?)
1972 Half a Minute It’s All I’ve Time For (clarinet, trombone, piano,

All of the works by Morton Feldman on this audio DVD (mp3’s will no doubt be available on iTunes, Amazon and others in the future) are important works in his oeuvre. The one oddity is the very brief For Stockhausen, Cage, Stravinsky and Mary Sprinson (1972). This piece is half a minute long, and makes most of Webern’s works seem like, well, late Feldman. I’m not sure what Feldman intended for it, or if it is a complete work as indicated by Glenn Freeman, but it is nice just the same. I could have a contest, perhaps, to see who knows who Mary Sprinson is, but I’ll give it away-she was a girlfriend of Feldman’s in the 70’s.

Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] is an early work of Feldman’s yet is a lot like other works he would write in the early 50’s. It is short and sparse, but has his fingerprints all over the notes. Extensions 5 is a beautiful work for two celli, much like the other works in the Extensions series. Two Instruments is perhaps my absolute favorite piece on this album. It is like Four Instruments in concept, but is not at all the same work or a rehash. It is a series of tones for horn and cello, all quiet and always beautiful. I can’t get it out of my head.

The album includes two brief vocal works, both of which are pleasant. Then there’s the Dance Suite, which is in four movements for percussion and piano/celesta played by two performers. It is often sparse and static like much Feldman at that time, and seems to predict later works like Why Patterns and For Crippled Symmetry in regard to the timbres.

Besides the premieres of music by Morton Feldman, this DVD-A is remarkable for its inclusion of four works by Feldman’s wife, Barbara Monk Feldman. Written between 1988 and 1998, they encompass the decade just after her husband’s untimely death from pancreatic carcinoma. Not surprisingly, they owe much to Morton Feldman, but also express an individual voice. For example, the Duo for Piano and Percussion, written just after Morton’s death, seems to me to be a riff on For Bunita Marcus, and expands on some of the chords from that long piano work. I enjoyed listening to it a great deal. The Gentlest Chord is a solo vocal work that is also worth hearing. Clear Edge is a brief piano piece that, I think, owes the least to Morton Feldman. Finally, there is the work Pour un Nuage Violet [after Marguerite Clerbout] that I think expands upon the musical universe that her husband created. There are parts that certainly remind one of late (Morton) Feldman, but this is also a work that has its own unique voice. The rapid pizzicato textures between the violin and cello are not anything I’ve ever found in any of Morton Feldman’s works, and while some of the chords inhabit part of his galaxy, the work itself is from another universe. It’s an incredible piece, and I’m glad it is available, along with the other works by Barbara Monk Feldman.

The performances are first rate and the many artists on this album were clearly devoted to doing the music justice. This album belongs on any Feldmanite’s holiday wish list, and should be heard by anyone with any interest in late 20th-century music. Now, I’m still waiting for the other works on the list above to get recorded already. And I definitely want to hear more music by Barbara Monk Feldman.

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cd cover art

cd cover art

Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios

music of Alan Hovhaness


Paul Hersey, piano; Christina Fong, violin|viola; Libor Soukal, bassoon; Jirí­ Å estí¡k, oboe; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Kornacki & John Varineau, clarinets; Christopher Martin, viola

  • Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
  • Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
  • Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
  • Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
  • Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
  • Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
  • Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
  • Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
  • Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
  • Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
  • Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
  • Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
  • The vastly prolific composer Alan Hovhaness gets captured in a time capsule of chamber music in this OgreOgress release.  This 126 minute DVD-A disc (96kHz|24bit for you audiophiles out there) contains a full fourteen chamber pieces, thirteen of which are getting premiere recordings.  The chronological ordering of works provides a journey from Hovhaness’ early populist tonal/modal style through his initial experiments with his better known Eastern influenced mystical language.  There are pieces from each decade of Hovhaness’ productivity so if you are wanting a sampler of Hovhaness’ chamber output, there really isn’t a better place to start than this recording.

    While probably better known for his symphonies, Hovhannes is equally skilled at writing his musical ideas in chamber form.  The disc is crammed full of top notch performances and the audio quality of the disc is stunning.  The solo piano works are rich with harmonics.  The string trio sounds as if they are right in front of you.  I was especially struck by the overtones in Libor Soukal’s bassoon sound in the Op. 23 Suite for oboe and bassoon.

    There is no one large, dominating work on this disc which again makes it enjoyable for hearing the evolution of Hovhannes’ style and also encouraging performers to take up more of his chamber music.  As I first listened to the disc, I was surprised at the style of the earlier pieces but the through line of Hovhaness’ development seemed as natural as breathing air.  Then, when I started over with the early piano trio, I was amazed at how much of the later music is hidden in the earlier.  Flirtations with modality in the early pieces evolve into raga-esque melodies a few decades down the road.

    Each performance on this disc is well crafted from the performer to the ensemble through to the recording.  The musical language overall is accessible and just plain pretty.  I was especially fond of the piano trio, the piano sonatina, the string trio, Night of a White Cat, and the solo viola sonata.  That is quite possibly more music than I would get on a standard CD.  The fact that I get all the other works, which I also enjoyed, is a major bonus.  OgreOgress is doing it right with good music, great performers and performances, and excellent recordings.

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    johncage8CAGE: Sculptures Musicales; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Nine; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight & Twenty-Nine; Eighty. Christina Fong, violins, violas; Karen Krummel, cellos; Michael Crawford, basses; Glenn Freeman, percussion and bowed piano; Prague Winds; Chance Operations Collective of Kalamazoo. OgreOgress DVD 634479962141. 121 minutes.

    The current disc is another in a remarkable series of first recordings of late works of John Cage on the OgreOgress label. For an introduction to the composer’s late style, see this review of an earlier disc in the series.

    This disc is not going to win over anyone who is predisposed to disliking Cage’s music. The pieces (and their committed, perceptive realizations/performances) are uncompromising and direct expressions of the composer’s aesthetic. There’s a  hushed tension in these pieces, manifest in noisy, quiet sounds (as in Sculptures Musicales) or in the fugitive unisons and pregnant silences of Eighty.

    The combination of repertoire, performances, and great 96kHz|24bit sound make this release indispensable for Cage students and admirers, and highly recommended for the adventurous listener.

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    Moons and Ancestors

    Moons and Ancestors

    music of Robert Shechtman

    performed by Paul Austin, Gregory Crowell, Christina Fong, and Ethnoeccentric

    OgreOgress Records

    Ancestral Songs for horn and organ

    Water from the Moon for amplified violin

    1. Sirens’ Song
    2. Soft Shoe
    3. Sirens’ Song II
    4. Jitterbug
    5. Sirens’ Song & One More Waltz

    Variations on the Huang Chung of the Eleventh Moon for amplified ensemble

    Robert Shechtman’s music is exactly what I wanted to hear exactly when I wanted to hear it.   There is a simplicity to the musical materials that is skillfully propelled into emotional arcs and meaty performances.   Shechtman’s language is open and inviting, drawing upon pitch centric and motivic gestures with lots of space and time between events.   I felt like I could really process what was being said as opposed to just trying to keep up.

    The opening calls of the horn in Ancestral Songs are lonely, spacious, and inviting.   The droning organ provides the perfect counterweight to the horn as the soloist picks up energy and gradually yanks the organ along with more spritely gestures.   Paul Austin and Gregory Crowell evoke the timeless and eternal quality that this music needs.

    Christina Fong brings the same needed energy to the five movement Water From the Moon. From the seductive long tones of Sirens’ Song to the One More Waltz, the music feels effortless and engaging.   The electronic manipulation of the violin is quite subtle and well placed.   The dance movements, Soft Shoe, Jitterbug, and the final Sirens’ Song & One More Waltz are particularly charming and note perfect.   If you don’t feel like moving while hearing these movements, you might want to check your pulse.

    Variations on the Huang Chung of the Eleventh Moon is a rousing and sparkling work for amplified ensemble.   Ethnoeccentric gives a passionate and intense performance.   Variations is the most driving and propulsive work on the disk and yet I still feel that sense of space and longing from the earlier pieces.   The variations walk a fine line between sectional/character variations and free-flowing fantasia.   Either way is fine with me.

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    johncage7.jpgCAGE: Three; Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight; Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine. Prague Winds; Christina Fong, violin; Susanna Borsch, recorders; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Crawford, bass; Glenn Freeman, percussion. OgreOgress DVD 634479754012. 122 minutes.

    Most Sequenza21 readers have at least a passing familiarity with some of the “number pieces” of John Cage’s late period. With his fame at its height and the commissions coming in at an astonishing rate, the composer developed a new means of notation (the “time frame”) and a not-completely-unrelated titling system (the pieces are titled after the number of performers required to play them, with superscript numbers to designate works requiring an already-used number of players) to respond to the stream of commissions.

    With these pieces, the master became the student. The soundworld of Cage’s number pieces bears the unmistakable stamp of Morton Feldman’s influence. They are quiet and slow, with lots of white space (silence). Unlike Feldman, Cage is not interested in patterns and their repetition””Cage’s quiet is in that way very different from Feldman’s.

    This OgreOgress audio-DVD (96kHz|24bit) of several of Cage’s number pieces for winds stands as a great introduction to this important body of music and a wonderful musical experience.

    Three is scored for three recorder players, playing a large number of recorders. Susanna Borsch plays all three parts in this recording. All of these pieces require a steady tone and rigorous intonation, and Ms. Borsch has both to spare, as do all of the performers on the program. Three is cast in sections: a first and last section required, and any (or none) of eight three-minute segments that may be played between them. In this recording the listener is invited to make that decision, potentially resulting a different piece every time  one listens to it.

    The other three pieces on the program, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Six with Twenty-Eight, and Twenty-Eight with Twenty-Nine illustrate another aspect of Cage’s musical world-view, one that is seen throughout his career””the combining of different pieces to make a new musical experience. (He also occasionally sanctioned the separate performance of parts of larger pieces, such as the orchestral parts of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra.) These larger pieces are still quiet and built of long tones, but the result is a teeming, democratic quietude that is as compelling as the more empty spaces of the smaller ensemble and solo number pieces.

    The performances here are all that you could ask for. The intonation and even tones are mesmerizing, and the subtly changing chords and textures that result when players enter and exit make for a novel kind of musical narrative. The high-resolution sound puts you in the middle of the music, which seems especially apt given Cage’s aesthetic. This is a must-have DVD.

    Finally, this disc is one of several that should put to rest the argument about Cage””he is a profound philosopher and an “inventor of genius”, but he was also a great composer.

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    Hovhaness on OgreOgressJanabar, Talin, Shambala

    Slovenskí¡ Filharmí³nia

    OrgreOgress DualDisc

    Janabar ‘Journey’, Op. 81 (1950) with Christina Fong, violin; Paul Hersey, piano; and Michael Bowman, trumpet
    Talin, Op. 93 (1951) with Christina Fong, viola
    Shambala, Op. 228 (1969) with Christina Fong, violin and Gaurav Mazumdar, sitar

    The music of Alan Hovhaness has a simple purity and grace that make it difficult to talk about. Each piece on this disc uses pitch-centric melodic soloists alternated with string orchestra ritornelli passages. Everything on this recording has a distinctive Indian characteristic in the melodic inflections while retaining very simple yet compelling tonal harmonic chorale motion in the accompaniment. Given the similarities between each of these three pieces, there is still a surprising amount of innovation that make each piece and section sound free. The ritornelli are mostly sensuous and homophonic but sometimes spring to life with clouds of pizzicato sounds or ringing metal percussion.

    Janabar uses piano and trumpet as alternating soloists through the piece’s five movements. The music, performance, and recording is clean and clear with such a solid compositional voice that there is no questioning whether or not Hovhaness should be doing something else. Talin features the glorious sound of Christina Fong on viola with luscious melodic lines and a sensuous timbre. The 45-minute Shambala brings Christina Fong on violin with Gaurav Mazumdar on sitar. The sitar music is rich and dense with a centered yet fluid sound. This music flows forth like almost no other music I’ve heard recently.

    This is the music of a composer who knows exactly who he his and what he sounds like. To want something else from this music is to miss the point of each piece. This music is a force of nature, but a tender and enjoyable force. It does not bluster and stomp around, pouring its emotion or “message” upon the listener. It floats by with a serene purity that makes this listener realize just how rare it is to hear music this honest.

    OgreOgress gives you a wealth of stuff here. Not only are there 126 minutes of content on the DVD side of the disc (containing the three complete works as well as 28 minutes of interviews with Hovhannes) but the flip CD side has one movement each from Janabar and Talin and the complete Shambala. Hearing single movements of Janabar and Talin will make you want to flip the disc over and hear the whole thing.

    The DVD side is recorded at 24 bit/96 kHz, which should mean something to you techies and audiophiles. These are high quality recordings that put the CD to shame. The sound of the strings, trumpet, and percussion are big and full and it sounds like you are sitting inside the piano. The piano sounds great, but a little too close. I had a sonic disconnect between the closeness of the piano sound yet the “mind’s eye” view of a work for piano, trumpet, and string orchestra on stage. A very minor quibble, indeed. I saw on OgreOgress’s website that they were selling tracks as mp3s, which I understand as a practical necessity of today’s music scene, but is the listening equivalent of looking at the Sistine Chapel from 100 miles away with cataracts and X-ray Specs. Buy the disc, put it in your DVD player (assuming you aren’t going to listen through those bad built-in TV speakers you have), and hear the difference.

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    B000LXIMYM-01-_SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgArnold Schoenberg: Early and Unknown String Works

    Rangzen Quartet & Strings, Christina Fong

    OgreOgress Productions

    1. Sonnenschein-Polka [Sunshine Polka] for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [3:09]
    2. “Alliance” Walzer [“Alliance” Waltz] for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [5:41]
    3. Lied ohne Worte [Song Without Words] in B-flat major for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [3:05]
    4. Idylles Lied ohne Worte [Idyllic Song Without Words] in C major for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [2:34]
    5. Lied ohne Worte [Song Without Words] in A minor for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [2:29]
    6. Geburtstags-Marsch [Birthday March] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [1 part] {U10} [4:01]
    7. Romance Ré mineur [Romance in D minor] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [2 parts] {U10} [8:32]
    8. String Quartet in F major (before 1897) [fragment] {U119} [:33]
    9. Gavotte und Musette (im alten Style) [Gavotte and Musette (in old style)] for string orchestra (1897) [original version] {U193} [2:18]

    11 Walzer für Streichorchester [11 Waltzes for String Orchestra] (1897)
    10. I. Krí¤ftig {U566} [1:12]
    11. II. Nicht zu rasch {U567} [1:13]
    12. III. Etwas langsam {U568} [1:11]
    13. IV. Etwas rasch {U569} [1:33]
    14. V. Rasch {U571} [1:37]
    15. VI. {U573} [1:57]
    16. VII. Krí¤ftig {U582} [1:22]
    17. VIII. Getragen {U584} [1:18]
    18. IX. Lebhaft {U586} [1:24]
    19. X. Nicht rasch {U575} [2:17]
    20. XI. Allegro rasch [fragment] {U578} [:17]

    21. Toter Winkel for string sextet (1899) [fragment] {U167} [1:46]

    String Quartet in D minor (1904) [fragments]
    22. Nicht rasch {U121} [:54]
    23. Sketch for the Langsam movement [1] {U129} [:17]
    24. Sketch for the Langsam movement [2] {U129} [:24]
    25. Sketch for the Langsam movement [3] {U130} [:21]
    26. Langsam [double fugue, version 1] {U121} [3:29]
    27. Langsam [double fugue, version 2] {U125} [3:33]

    28. String Quartet in C major (after 1904) [fragment] {U142} [1:01]
    29. String Quintet in D major (1905) [fragment] {Sk45} [:32]
    30. String Septet (1918) [fragment] {U175} [:54]
    31. String Quartet Movement (1926) [fragment] {U133} [:26]

    String Quartet (1926) [fragments]
    32. Beginning of a movement [version 1] {U137} [:14]
    33. Beginning of a movement [version 2] {U137} [:13]
    34. Beginning of a movement [version 3] {U138} [:12]
    35. Theme for another movement {U137} [:24]
    36. Violin/cello duo for another movement {U139} [:08]
    37. Violin theme for another movement {U141} [:29]

    38. Untitled in D major (1926) [fragment] {U549} [:12]
    39. String Quartet in C major (after 1927) [fragment] {U107} [1:49]
    40. Mirror Canon in A major for string quartet (after 1930) {XXXIII} [:27]
    41. Fugue [arranged for string quartet by Stephen Dembski] (1938) [fragment] {Ms95} [1:27]

    String Quartet #5 (1949) [fragments]
    42. I. {U143} [:39]
    43. II. {U144} [:21]
    44. III. {U145} [:44]
    45. IV. {U147} [:57]

    This is an audio DVD containing 45 tracks of little known and unknown works for various string groupings by Schoenberg, the vast majority of which represent early compositions, many of which are fragments. All of us who compose have various fragments representing ideas we eventually abandon, and Schoenberg was no different. Similarly, we all have early works that we like and want to see performed, along with other early works that we would prefer never see the light of day.

    It’s hard to say why some of the works on this DVD were not pursued to completion by Schoenberg, and it’s an interesting debate as to whether or not Schoenberg would have wanted them published, performed and even recorded. Regardless, here is a wealth of music that is of interest both on a musical and a musicological level. Indeed, none of this music has been previously recorded, and eight of the works are heard in their entirety.

    It is a shame that many of these works remain as fragments. I was particularly intrigued by the promise of the unpublished, and incomplete, String Quartet #5 (1949). Unfortunately, what exists of the score is extremely short and fragmented, lasting less than three minutes in total. That’s even shorter than Webern’s op. 28 Quartet. Some measures resemble portions of the late Trio for Strings, which is a very underappreciated and underperformed masterpiece. It is interesting to compare many of the works on this disc with some of Schoenberg’s more mature and complete works for strings. In some cases, these works, even when fragmented, presage some of the better known compositions, such as the first two string quartets.

    While these are not major works, even those that are performed in their entirety, it is pleasant music, much like some of the early music of Webern and other German/Austrian composers from the very early 20th century. For those who still doubt that Schoenberg could write very easygoing, “conventional” music, this album should dispel those misconceptions. The performances are first rate, and genuinely capture the Viennese gestalt. The engineering is also very well done. Of particular mention are the extensive liner notes, unusual for an independent label to have provided. My only regret is that the author, Severine Neff, is mentioned more prominently; I finally found the attribution on the small side of the DVD insert. I’m also puzzled why there is an insert with a continuation of the text that is smaller than the rest of the liner notes, but that’s a very minor issue. In all, it’s a very noble release of historic importance, but it leaves me wishing Schoenberg had finalized more of his music, particularly his fifth quartet.

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    For Feldman

    Morton Feldman: Three Pieces for String Quartet; Two Pieces for String Quartet; For String Quartet; David Toub: mf; David Kotlowy: Of Shade to Light; John Prokop: New England, Late Summer; David Beardsley: as beautiful as a crescent of a new moon on a cloudless spring evening

    Rangzen Quartet, Christina Fong

    This 95-minute audio DVD represents an enterprising project from OgreOgress Productions, whose every project is enterprising. The influence of Morton Feldman, after all, seems to be proclaimed everywhere these days, across a far wider range of time, space and aesthetic than one might have thought possible upon Feldman’s death almost twenty years ago. Accordingly, For Feldman presents first recordings of some early string quartet music by the influencer himself, juxtaposed with four relatively extended works by younger, lesser-known composers who claim that influence.

    The headliners here, from a retail standpoint in any case, are the Feldman works. The Three Pieces for String Quartet are, as it turns out, For String Quartet followed by the Two Pieces for String Quartet; in other words, there are three string quartet pieces on this recording, each heard twice. These slight works, written between 1954 and 1956, hail from a time in Feldman’s career when variously indeterminate works (the graph pieces, the “free duration” pieces, and so on) were interspersed with the occasional fully notated score, giving evidence of an aesthetic turmoil from which Feldman’s mature style would only slowly begin to emerge.

    It’s not clear how these pieces are notated, and David Toub’s brief liner notes are mute on the subject. One can only assume, given the preponderance of unison attacks, is that these scores are either fully written out or presented as a series of (mostly) verticalities to be performed in free tempo, like the Durations series or the later Christian Wolff in Cambridge. I thought the presence of each piece twice on the disc would help triangulate a hypothesis, but no such luck; these appear, oddly enough, to be the same performances simply included twice under different titles.

    The music is typical of a certain subspecies of early-50s Feldman, very much in the vein of 1951’s Structures, his only previous work for string quartet. The familiar Feldman is here in the quiet dynamics, isolated gestures, and slow rate of change, but the particularly forward-looking passages in Structures“”the oases of slightly irregular repetitions that twenty years later would form nearly the whole of Feldman’s aesthetic universe””are not in evidence. Instead, relics of Webernian melody (particularly a pizzicato cello lick at the end of For String Quartet) testify to a soon-to-be-discarded approach to horizontal continuity.

    For all these reasons and more, these pieces are of significant historical interest to the Feldman aficionado, although they are not in themselves his most compelling or successful work. A dryish recording that deadens even low-register pizzicati and muffles the resonance of harmonics does damage to the sonic surface, but the secure intonation and ensemble consciousness of the Rangzen Quartet provides a satisfactory and valuable documentation. Now there is one fewer dark unexplored corner of Feldman’s large and varied output.

    The four other pieces on this disc share with each other and with Feldman a reliance on very slow rates of motion, and little else. David Toub’s mf follows a rocking diatonic ostinato for thirteen minutes, floating long, mostly stepwise melodies above and below it as it wanders through different instruments, ranges, harmonies, and finally timbres. The very narrow dynamic range (the only written dynamic indication is that alluded to in the title) results in an appealingly claustrophobic texture, independently creating knottiness and density despite open harmonies and widely spread registers. The punishing string writing””the resin on the bows is very much in evidence, since that ostinato requires two bow changes a second””sometimes taxes the quartet noticeably, so those rocking eighth-notes are not always as steady as one might wish, and the momentum flags at times as a result. The sudden switch to col legno battuto at the ten-minute mark is a pleasant surprise, though, providing enough contrastive power to propel the piece to a conclusive quasi-cadential apotheosis.

    David Kotlowy presents a mostly hushed series of slowly stuttering ensemble gestures in Of Shade to Light. Movement through series of locally repeated, harmonically chromatic cells make this the most Feldmanesque of the four “homage” pieces, although the occasional appearance of a long-held low cello note that suddenly casts the surrounding harmony in the role of resonances is a distinctly “post-Feldman” idea. Particularly effective is the sudden yet subtle emergence of ponticello timbre after the halfway point, a striking means of ratcheting up tension and energy with a minimum of material. While Toub’s mf tested the quartet’s endurance and concentration, Of Shade to Light challenges the steadiness of their arms and their security of attack, with every flaw highlighted by a very close recording; but the consistency, clarity and force of Kotlowy’s writing overcomes these obstacles.

    John Prokop’s gorgeous New England, Late Summer is broadly similar in timbre and texture to the Kotlowy; it was wise to separate them with one of Feldman’s short quartet pieces on this recording. Compared to Of Shade to Light, the cloudy repetitions here are more leisurely, more melodic than gestural in character, more uniform and more hypnotic. The whole thing breathes with a dense gentleness, and when everything is transported upward by a semitone seven minutes in the effect is a beam of sunshine. New England, Late Summer elicits the Rangzen Quartet’s best performance on this recording by some measure, and rightfully so, for it is the most affecting music here, Feldman included.

    David Beardsley’s as beautiful as a crescent of a new moon on a cloudless spring evening is a half-hour essay in just intonation played by Christina Fong overdubbed upon herself. A low cello A serves as a reference point while a series of held tones over it produce microtonal beatings, audible overtones and unsettlingly pure intervals. I confess that this music falls between two stools for me: it depends too much on melody and dramatic form to achieve the paradoxically human rigor of Alvin Lucier’s wide-eyed sonic experiments, but nor is there enough other substance to propel the music out of the “wow, listen to this weird interval” territory. As an almost pugnacious essay in so-called “alternative tunings,” it may well appeal to listeners for whom that is enough to sustain interest.

    The Feldman on this disc represents a valuable contribution to a fundamentally important historical legacy, but the highlight musically is the Prokop. In any case, this disc is worth a listen for those curious to hear what has become Feldman’s legacy””how his example of alternative ways of conceiving form, time, density and content have seeped their way into the aesthetic consciousness of a succeeding generation of composers who have little else in common.

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