The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: Radiant account of a modern masterpiece
Musicians: Eclipse Quartet, Vicki Ray (piano)
Composer: Feldman

A few held chords, some rippling arpeggios, all appearing in countless subtly different combinations yet never rising above a dynamic of quiet restraint. That’s pretty much all there is to Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet from 1985. Yet the composer spins it out to almost 80 minutes of magical meditation. This glowing yet understated account represents a near-ideal vision of the piece, treading a sometimes precarious path between cold, expressionless objectivity and irrelevantly overheated personal expression.

The performers – pianist Vicki Ray and the youthful contemporary-music specialists of the Eclipse Quartet – aren’t afraid to bring a radiant life to the tiny nuances that give the piece meaning, yet they never go too far. The quartet subtly alters its chord weighting to respond to a new piano arpeggio, for example, or gradually undoes its impeccable ensemble playing to demonstrate the different tones that make up a particular harmony. The quartet players’ vibrato is sparing yet eloquent, and they breathe as one in their phrasing and delicately swelling sounds.

It’s a performance that draws the listener into a refined world of heightened senses, not through histrionics but through a quiet commitment and a belief in the power of this strange, compelling music. Recorded sound is rich, clear and generous, and there’s an illuminating booklet note by composer David Lang.

David Kettle