FELDMAN: Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello – Danielle Farina, viola/ Aleck Karis, piano/Curtis Macomber, violin/ Christopher Finckel, cello – Bridge 9446, 75:23 [2/3/15] ****1/2:
What a way to leave your listeners. Morton Feldman died soon after his cancer diagnosis in 1987. Yet a few short months before, he released Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, a piece not death-haunted like you’d expect. It declares no intimations of mortality, no gloomy mood arising from the illness that struck him down like a late-night NYC delivery truck. The piece is more or less a silvery example of his late style; with deceptively quiet, almost unsettling string chords, and understated duplet arpeggios (or single notes or strolling scalar ascents) on the piano. Listening to this 75-minute piece is like circling a sculpture by Ossip Zadkine – I’m thinking of his “Destroyed City” in Rotterdam – all alone at twilight. You keep going round and round it and seeing more from every angle, and thinking, whoa it’s kinda chilly here for the summer. But the music never changes or develops; it just simultaneously arises and collapses, and tunnels through folds of your skin both thick and thin. If you miss something the first time around, you can catch it the next time, but it won’t quite be the same.
Some tone clusters repeat for thirty or forty seconds straight and then you never hear them again. Wait, that’s not exactly true. Sometimes you do hear them again, particularly on piano, but you just never know when they’ll pop up. And get this: there’s no agenda at work here, none at all. No statement about the sufferings of late twentieth century humanity, nor a wry musical statement that knocks you for a loop (which Feldman was fond of doing in his essays). It’s nowhere near minimalism; it’s more like abstract expressionism (though no such bird lifts music aloft). Rothko. Pollock. Kline. Play it sometime at a party at mid-volume and when someone approaches a speaker amid the din of celebration, lustily jokes and asks, “so you’re playing what here?” it’s time to say, “Our last contact with Morton Feldman.”