The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: An enlightening exploration of the music of an American modernist master
Musicians: Andreas Seidel (violin) Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
Composer: Feldman

US composer Morton Feldman (1926–87) didn’t write that much for the combination of violin and piano, as the informative booklet notes to this compelling two-disc set tell us. But in gathering together all his music for that duo, German contemporary music specialists Andreas Seidel and Steffen Schleiermacher reveal its surprising variety, and deliver some precise, committed performances that, while sometimes rather cool, are never less than beguiling.

The earliest pieces here – the Webernesque Piece for violin and piano (1950) and the graphic-scored Projection IV (1951) – are brief, but Seidel shows his remarkable tonal control and some mischievous wit. In the latter piece, especially, he darts between a thin, reedy sound, piercing pizzicatos and breathy harmonics with what seems like a sparkle in his eye. Extensions 1 (1951) is an oddity in Feldman’s output in contrasting very quiet and very loud sounds, and the duo makes the most of the sudden explosions of noise, with delicate interplay in the softer sections.

Seidel gives a remarkable reading of the enigmatic Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963), seeming to emerge from silence with his every note, as though afraid of disturbing the listener. He turns what could have been quite an abstract, enigmatic essay into something rather moving.

But it’s in the longest work here – the 76-minute For John Cage (1982), which fills the second disc – that the duo really comes into its own. The players are precise yet pointed in the piece’s seemingly endless repetitions, turning them almost into sounds from the environment around us, and they bring an understated drama to the work’s gentle clusters and dissonances. The recorded sound is warm and truthful.

David Kettle