Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble / Petr Kotik

Morton Feldman: Turfan Fragments

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The two works on this album were Morton Feldman's only compositions for chamber orchestra, and though the ensemble appears to be treated in similar ways in each piece, with dense vertical chords and sparse, miniscule gestures, they are quite different in sound, tempo, and effect. The title work, The Turfan Fragments (1980), was inspired by an exhibit of manuscripts from the southwest region of China, and Feldman handles his melodic and harmonic fragments as delicately as a conservator might handle bits of ancient parchment. There is a great deal of "air" or momentary silences around these musical ideas, and the rate of change is faster than that in For Samuel Beckett (1987), which unwinds its harmonic development quite slowly and continuously over 51 minutes. The Turfan Fragments may seem scattered and a little random in the selection of its chords, some of which share enough sonic qualities with famous chords by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich, that listeners may suspect Feldman was making musical allusions. For Samuel Beckett leaves no room for suspicion of quotation or borrowing, because the woof and weave of the notes is as intricate and close as the threads of the textiles that inspired several of Feldman's late, large-scale compositions. Both pieces are performed by the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, led by Petr Kotik, and its expertise in Feldman's style is impressive. The group also controls a wide range of dynamics within Feldman's generally quiet ambience, so the differences between volume levels have subtle distinctions that only attentive listeners can appreciate.

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