This ninth volume of Mode's Morton Feldman Edition brings together 13 of the 17 works the composer notated using graph instead of normal manuscript paper (between 1950's "Projection I" and 1967's "In Search of An Orchestration", though Feldman temporarily abandoned his graphic notatio after 1953's "Intersection IV" and only returned to it five years later with "Ixion"), performed with customary aplomb by the Amsterdam-based Barton Workshop under the baton of Jos Zwaanenburg and their music director James Fulkerson, who also provides the perceptive liner notes. Feldman collectors had better get their credit cards ready, as the disc includes the first recordings of three ensemble works: "Intersection I", "Marginal Intersection" and "In Search of An Orchestration". (1961's "Out of 'Last Pieces'" is also billed as a first, though my Feldman database lists another recording of the work conducted by Leonard Bernstein as part of Sony's Bernstein Century edition.)
1951 was quite a prolific year for Feldman - he composed no fewer than 14 works, of which "Intersection I" and "Marginal Intersection" call for the largest forces - but while his graphic scores for chamber line-ups are no longer surprising to our ears, having been performed and recorded relatively frequently (five commercially available versions exist of "Projection I" and there are several readings of the later works in the "Projections" series, even including another by the same ensemble), the same compositional techniques used with a full ensemble lead to a rather thick, chromatically saturated texture at odds with the quasi-Webernian sparsity of the chamber pieces. The music is uncompromising, and, though recognisably Feldman, not always attractive. It's surprising, though, that "Marginal Intersection" hasn't been released before, as it's remarkably colourful, if atypical. In addition to the instrumental ensemble, in which percussion features quite prominently, the piece calls for two oscillators - one senses the influence of Varèse somewhere in the background, though the once more rather claggy pitch world is far removed from his razor-sharp set theory. In contrast, notes in Frank Denyer's version of "Intersection II" sound so good I'm tempted to wonder if Denyer, a talented and woefully underestimated composer in his own right, didn't prepare his own performing version of the score (à la David Tudor, as mentioned in the review above) prior to the recording session. His muscular bravura in "Intersections III" also gives the lie to the idea that Feldman's music must, of necessity, be slow, quiet and fragile. A comparison of the two solo cello works, "Projection I" (1950) and "Intersection IV", dating from three years later, both splendidly performed by Taco Kooistra, reveals how sophisticated Feldman's graph paper notation had become by the time he abandoned it later in 1953. When he returned to the medium at the end of the decade, the results were deceptively complex, and strikingly beautiful. Compared to the rather muddy textures of "Intersection I", "Out of 'Last Pieces'" and "The Straits of Magellan", both written in 1961, positively shimmer - and I thought the Turfan Ensemble's reading of the latter on Mode 103 couldn't be equalled - and it's wonderful to finally hear "In Search of An Orchestration". Not that Morton Feldman had to search all that far: his mastery of instrumentation is evident throughout this fine disc.