Feldman’s Violin and Orchestra: The Cure for Insomnia

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

I’ve said it before: Morton Feldman’s music is the ultimate cure if you’re having trouble falling asleep. This isn’t because it’s boring—far from it. Indeed, the music is fascinating,  but it captures your attention to the point where you simply drift with it (because it does drift), and if you happen to be tired and sleepless you will ultimately drift off with it. Guaranteed. What makes this fact even more intriguing is that this isn’t by any means easy music. Of course it is thoroughly atonal, even microtonal. The solo part consists of screechy bits on high, low fragments of melody further down, and weird gurgles in between. The orchestra is mostly quiet, and saturated with strange, indescribable colors. The whole thing lasts about 50 minutes in one mostly slow, very quiet movement.

So why listen at all, even if you are already exhausted? Well, the difference between Feldman and his screech-bloop colleagues is that he just had this amazing feeling for texture and sheer sound; and for reasons that remain utterly inexplicable his music hangs together and consistently grips the attention. I do wonder if he really expected listeners to stay focused for as long as he asks, but if you do have the fortitude to stick with it until the end you won’t feel that your time would have been better spent elsewhere.

This is Violin and Orchestra’s premiere recording, and it is excellent: sensitive, nuanced, mysterious, and well sustained. It’s pointless to speak of soloist Carolin Widmann’s beauty of tone in the high screechy bits, never mind the rest of the decidedly non-virtuosic violin part. She plays with the requisite hushed intensity and dedication to the cause. The same holds true of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Emilio Pomàrico. This couldn’t have been easy, but they make it sound so, and the sonics are well balanced and unusually free of extraneous noise (important in music that is so quiet). Lovable? Maybe not; but imposing, and impossible to ignore while you’re awake.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

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