Feldman: Piano and String Quartet

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LABELS: Hat Hut hat[now]ART
WORKS: Piano and String Quartet
PERFORMER: Ives Ensemble
Morton Feldman once called the string quartet ‘the pinnacle of Western music’, and his long-term interest in the genre certainly flourished in his later years. His 1979 String Quartet was followed first by his epic, five-hour String Quartet II (1983) and then by a series of works for solo instrument and string quartet, including ones with clarinet (1983), violin (1985) and piano (1985).


Often, Feldman’s choice of these relatively conventional instrumentations contrasts markedly with the very unconventional ways in which he uses them. In Piano and String Quartet, the piano part, written in the treble clef only, is based on a rising six-note phrase, an arpeggiated chord, played pianissimo and with the sustain pedal depressed throughout. The strings, also pianissimo, play mostly sustained chords, with none of the busy internal dialogues that characterise Classical quartet-writing.


Feldman composed Piano and String Quartet for Aki Takahashi and the Kronos Quartet, who recorded it for Elektra in 1993. Their definitive performance wonderfully captures the music’s mysterious, mesmerising beauty. By comparison, this new version by the Ives Ensemble, though estimable, seems a little too earnest and clean-cut, while Hat Hut’s drier acoustic gives the sound a harder edge. Graham Lock