Musical Pointers

These are two composers with whom I have had difficulties in the past, nor am I alone. Feldman is notorious for the length of his works and their calm, quiet and (until you are into them) seemingly uneventful surfaces (see my review of his For Philip Guston).

This CD is a good ‘way in’ to both composers. The succint notes by Christopher Fox (he and Feldman attended each others lectures at Darmstadt) are extremely helpful. Feldman wrote down his music in ink ‘which could not be erased’. Fox characterises the result as extraordinary, ‘as if we were hearing the music exactly as it occurred to Feldman’. At 43 mins this is short for Feldman and I found them well spent and the music persuasive and quietly compelling (For Philip Guston at the Royal Academy was scheduled to last four hours, and I didn’t last the course).

Fox’s quintet takes a mere 13 minutes! It explores ‘subtle contrasts in texture, rhythm and interval size’ and blurs ‘ensemble identity’, the clarinet both inside the quartet and separate from it. Fox uses material ‘so artless’ that the listener can hear each tone and how they are disposed. One can become irritated with his repetitions which go on (nearly) too long, but eventually something changes and you see the point.

CDs should not be judged on length; I had two hours of pleasure from playing this one twice through and thinking about it. The intriguing, not easily deciphered cover image from paintings by Max Miller (not the famous comedian from the ’30s) is of clarinet mouthpieces!

—Peter Grahame Woolf