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Despite the explosion of Feldman´s popularity and recordings of his works in recent years, his orchestral music has not received the attention it deserves. This new CD presents four first recordings plus the first recording of Intersection I with full orchestra - all performed in the studio, a coproduction between Deutschlandradio and Mode. A disc of amazing discoveries! Intersection I is a pivotal early graphic score, presented here in a realisation by Samuel Clay Birmaher. Muscular and dynamic, it sounds like nothing else in Feldman´s oeuvre - the raw sound of an orchestra untamed. Structures and On Time and the Instrumental Factor (1969) are sister works from a transitional period in Feldman´s music. Both pieces explore an atmosphere of suspended time, with the instruments acting like an orchestra of tolling bells. Voice and Instruments puts the sibylline voice in a wordless dialogue with the orchestra. Emphasis here is on the beauty of a single sound, with each moment connected to the next by a spider´s thread. Orchestra is a walk through the orchestral landscape. Patterns come and go of their own accord as the music moves into unexplored territories. An important bridge between Feldman's middle and late works. The American conductor Brad Lubman was Assistant Conductor to Oliver Knussen at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1989-94, and has since emerged as an unusually versatile conductor of orchestras and ensembles all over the world. He has worked with a great variety of illustrious musical figures including Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Tilson Thomas, and John Zorn. The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin was founded in 1946 in the American sector of Berlin as the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester. As its first principal conductor, from 1948, Ferenc Fricsay established the orchestra´s future course: commitment to contemporary and stylish interpretation of the traditional repertoire. Their expertise with contemporary music is evident in this committed and warm recording.
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HIGHEST FELDMAN RECOMMENDATION
The works are presented in chronologic order, starting with the early Intersection I, a graphic score from 1951 that was arranged by Samuel Clay Birmaher for this recording. Both this and the subsequent piece Structures (from 1962) suffer the fate of many Feldman orchestra endeavors in sounding too coarse and heavy in comparison to the more typical Feldman sound world of solo and chamber music. It doesn't help that the Berliners have a propensity to play too loudly in the upper register in these pieces, and even Lubman seems to be rushing through them, perhaps looking ahead to the more accomplished compositions to come later.
And those starts with the 1969 piece On Time and the Instrumental Factor. This is one of the last of Feldman’s “semi-indeterminate” scores, which dictates exact pitches but leaves their duration to the discretion of the performers. The performance of this composition comes off better than the first two, with sensitive spacing between the isolated notes helping to compensate for the dense sonorities of such a large ensemble.
It's the next piece, though, that's truly vintage Feldman. Voice and Orchestra from 1972 gets a stellar reading by the Berliners and New York-based soprano Martha Cluver. Ms. Cluver hits just the right timbral and dymanic nuances, approaching the voice part much like one would the solo woodwind part in a work like Oboe and Orchestra. The piece starts with three isolated notes in the voice alone, before introducing winds and then strings. And in this recording Cluver, with the lightest of vibrato and a clarion, consonant-less attack that disguises the sound’s origins, could easily fool you into thinking you’re hearing a solo English horn or oboe instead of a soprano. Cluver also demonstrates that you can sing in tune without lots of vibrato. This piece is almost all single notes and chords with the occasional two- or three-note vocal phrase sounding over a sustained sonority, and a single cantilena-like passage about 13½ minutes in where the soprano alternates tritones then soars up to a high A. Like most of Feldman’s determinate scores, the harmonies are mostly semitone-based. An interesting passage comes in the 7th minute, where the voice alternates between E-flat and D-natural, each time doubled by a different instrument. After going E♭- D - E♭- D - E♭ we expect another D to follow and it does, but in the cellos and bassoons without the voice. Instead she re-enters a bit later on C-natural and takes the music in another direction.
The second gem is the late piece titled simply Orchestra, from 1976. This is perhaps the most successful of Feldman's orchestral works without soloist. Feldman seems to be savoring the timbral range of the orchestral pallet here, and there are many delicious moments. This time Lubman and the musicians give the work plenty of space to breath, and don’t rush through the silences between notes. The score calls for a largish orchestra, including piano, bass clarinet and vibraphone, but the scoring is generally fairly transparent. The heaviest moments tend to come when a cluster-based sonority gets crossfaded between woodwinds, strings and brass, an effect we associate with many 20th Century composers, but not so much Feldman. At about 13:40 we start to hear some repeating four-note licks in the upper strings that would be reused in the epic String Quartet (II) a few years later. As was the case with several of Feldman’s works from the late 1970s, there’s an unexpectedly wide dynamic range, including several loud outbursts, though most of the piece is quite soft.
These last two pieces, along with The Viola in My Life IV, and the series of instrumental “concertos” (Flute and Orchestra, etc.) represent the best of Feldman’s orchestral writing. Given how seldom these works are heard in performance, and how seldom they've been recorded, this album makes a worthwhile addition to the shelf of any Feldman enthusiast.
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