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Feldman: Coptic Light; String Quartet and Orchestra

Arditti Quartet; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, et al (Capriccio)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Coptic Light; String Quartet and Orchestra*
Arditti Quartet*; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Emilio Pomarico*, Michael Boder
Capriccio C5378   53:22 mins

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In 1972 Morton Feldman surprised his NYC artistic circle by moving to Buffalo where he taught at the University until his death in 1987. The works on this absorbing release prompt a look back at his ensuing compositional journey: from the painterly distillation yet expansion of 1986’s Coptic Light – his final and possibly greatest orchestral work – to an earlier prototype in 1973’s String Quartet and Orchestra.

The two works have much in common, not least since Feldman returned in Coptic Light to a half-hour length that seems modest alongside the extended durations to which he’d increasingly been drawn. But here, with the capable Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra – conducted by Michael Boder, then Emilio Pomàrico and joined by the Arditti Quartet – it’s Feldman’s progressive refinement of colour that’s most striking.

In both pieces, shading and timbre meld with attack and decay as structural foundations within a hushed overall dynamic. The subtlety of the Arditti’s weaving in and out of the orchestra emphasises how little the earlier work resembles a conventional concerto, while the later work is an immersion in sonic chiaroscuro, offered as parallel to the warp and weft of Coptic textiles.

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Steph Power