Apartment House play Morton Feldman’s Violin And String Quartet

Sunday 17 September 2023

Apartment House and Another Timbre have supplied another missing link in the late canon of Morton Feldman: Violin And String Quartet is a two-hour work from 1985 that, as far as I can tell, has only been commercially recorded twice before, with neither version currently available. As such, it has sat in semi-obscurity between the widely-admired 90-minute pieces and the notorious four-hour plus compositions, although as a listening experience it belongs with the former group. It’s another of Feldman’s masterclasses in achieving a place of inner stillness, taking a small cluster of pitches and doing just enough with them to never let things settle into place; patterns slowly rock back and forth without ever quite repeating exactly, in phrases that float somewhere between the iambic rhythms of breathing, heartbeats and a slow waltz. The Another Timbre page states simply that it’s so beautiful that nothing more needs to be said. I won’t quite agree: the preponderance of violins give the work a consistency that moves the music away from the textural variety of the preceding works and points towards the monolithic impression of what were to be his last works. Apartment House – represented here by Mira Benjamin, Chihiro Ono and Amalia Young on violins, Bridget Carey on viola and director Anton Lukoszevieze on cello – interpret the work by lightly pressing upon its ambiguities and contradictions, reflecting Feldman’s approach to composition. From the start, the bowing is light enough to let pitch sound clearly while still letting the scrape of bow against be heard, creating a tension in the constant sounds – an atypical aspect of this work. I haven’t heard the Peter Rundel with Pellegrini Quartet version on Hat Art, but the OgreOgress recording with Christina Fong and the Rangzen Quartet presents a continuous skein of thin harmonies. Apartment House seem to let the higher instruments take the focus, along with reedy harmonics, so that when lower pitches appear the timbre sounds exotic and strange. When heard at low volumes, as one tends to do, it adds a suitably disorienting aspect to the music. As the piece approaches its end, the pauses become more pronounced, adding a quiet poignancy to the reticent bowing.