Feldman: Crippled Symmetry

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COMPOSERS: Feldman
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Crippled Symmetry
PERFORMER: California EAR Unit
CATALOGUE NO: 9092
Morton Feldman’s late works are generally very quiet, very slow and very long. Crippled Symmetry (1983) and For Samuel Beckett (1987) share these attributes, yet remain strikingly different pieces. Crippled Symmetry takes its title and its structural methodology from Feldman’s interest in Near and Middle Eastern rug-making, where the symmetry of the patterns is ‘crippled’ by slight variations in the execution of the details. Writing for three musicians who each play two instruments (flute/bass flute, piano/celesta, glockenspiel/vibraphone), Feldman sets them floating in a precisely plotted slow-dance, fragments of colour that drift through space in subtly shifting alignments. The result is a music of hypnotic beauty that shows Feldman too possesses a quality he admired in Matisse, mastery of that ‘seesaw balance between movement and stasis’.

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In For Samuel Beckett, for a chamber ensemble of 23 instrumentalists, the seesaw tilts towards stasis; murky textures and long, insistent slab-notes evoke a desolate soundscape. Klangforum Wien, opting for funereal pacing and harsh, viscous sound, exacerbate this feeling to create unrelieved dreariness. I prefer the Berlin recording, its greater depth and detail of sound allowing for those poetic flashes that Feldman here, like Beckett, uses to light up the darkness. Graham Lock