Uniqueness and greatness go hand in hand in the cases of only a few composers, and Morton Feldman is surely among them as a nexus of duality. Coming out of Webern, he eschewed even that composer's sometimes nostalgic sense of drama, eventually crafting a late language of labyrinthine simplicity. He anticipates the works of Wandelweiser composers as well as prefiguring similarly cast contributions from Another Timbre and Erstwhile artists. As with the later works of Samuel Beckett, an author he knew and admired, Feldman's stark simplicity is pitted directly against a backdrop of changeless change, a Protean present in which, unlike more conventional forms, past and future blur and the semi-static "now" is ever-present. Composed in 1980, Trio, whose only nod toward convention is its instrumentation of piano, violin and cello, marks the beginning of that final and immensely fruitful period in Feldman's compositional development.
As this is a reissue on the venerable Hat[Now]Art label, the Ives Ensemble's version needs very few plaudits to make its case. While there are other readings that take more time, delving into the subtleties of the work's mammoth form and detailed structure of nuanced repetitions, this one might be the best choice for someone intimidated by the work's daunting scale. Here, it lasts 76 minutes, and the ensemble guides it forward with tender hands whose bone and muscle are still readily apparent. Rarely luxuriating in a sustain, the trio brings out the post-Webernian pointillism still present in Feldman's conception, moving from one element to another with a winning fluency that aids listener memory and digestion. This is not to say that subtlety is lost. There is a gorgeous transparency to the close recording, expertly engineered, as is everything from the label. Rather, the Ives Ensemble walks deftly along the thin line between motion and stasis.
A close comparison might be Jochum's 1950s Bruckner symphonies, which are fleet-footed and yet maintain a sense of spirituality. The Ives Ensemble renders Trio with something approaching excitement, preparing and rendering Feldman's occasional outbursts not as aberrations but as integral to the work's macrostructure. The ensemble is tight and timbrally unified, clarifying each subtle dynamic shift and making the trio sound orchestral. This is a recording of stunning clarity and precision, a relatively rapid journey through Feldman in compositional metamorphosis, and this reissue captures that spirit of transition.
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