The Strad issue
Marek Konstantinowicz (viola) Cikada Ensemble, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Christian Eggen (conductor)
The comparison is often made between Morton Feldman’s large spaces of sound nearing silence and the washy canvases of his friend Mark Rothko, but the passion and economy of these four pieces reminds me of another contemporary, the poet e.e. cummings. Notes and words are spaced across the page, the air between them serving to heighten the expressive potential of every gesture. Formal openings and closures are eschewed for a syntax that tells a simple if oblique story. Typically for Feldman, the end of each piece teases with the promise of some unheard revelation.
When Feldman was asked about the title, he said with typical insouciance that he just liked it, and the viola. The truth is somewhat more complicated. He had a long affair with the violist Karen Phillips, the wife of the great Walter Trampler. This cycle was composed over a mere nine months during the affair. So they are more love songs to the instrument than from it, most obviously in the soliloquy of no.3, after which the full symphonic canvas of no.4 effects a dramatic release. Tamtams and bells, woodblocks and timpani rolls mark out some obscure ritual, with a repeated falling seventh in the plucked bass.
Marek Konstantinowicz seems at home with all of this, content with his status as anti-soloist to create perspective through texture (as Rothko and Rauschenberg do) with a rough and grainy viola sound against the bright and more pointed accompanying Cikada Ensemble. The ECM ‘house’ ambience and beautifully presented booklet (including a useful essay by Paul Griffiths and plenty of Feldman photos with ubiquitous cigarette) add to the attractions of this short but rewarding disc. Goodness knows why it took seven years to be released.