The Viola In My Life
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"The Viola in my Life" is one of innovative American composer Morton Feldman's most important works. Performed by Norway's versatile chamber group, the Cikada Ensemble and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under the direction of Christian Eggen.
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Feldman wrote _The Viola in my Life_ for violist Karen Phillips. It's in four parts, the first three written in 1970, and the fourth in 1971. Each part is scored differently, the first three for various chamber ensembles, the last for viola and orchestra. Each part could certainly stand on its own, yet the parts make an integrated whole despite the different make-up of the performing forces. _Viola_ marked a new direction for Feldman, turning away from the indeterminacy of earlier compositions to a predetermined sound world in which the composer exerted control over all the major elements of the music. The piece itself anticipates the feel of some of the later grand canvases (_Patterns in a Chromatic Field_, _Crippled Symmetries_, etc.), if lacking their scope and intricacy. It's exquisite, and if you appreciate the beauty of Feldman's writing, you certainly want the piece in your collection.
This new ECM disc, performed by (mostly) Norwegian musicians, offers a really first rate performance, completely in sync with the Feldman aesthetic. The real question for the prospective buyer is whether to get this recording or the recording the composer conducted with dedicatee Karen Phillips playing viola. That latter recording (which I haven't heard) would seem to have a superior pedigree. On the other hand, it was recorded in 1970, when the composer hadn't yet written the fourth part of the work, so it's incomplete. If you want an excellent reading of the complete work, this one is highly recommended.
The liner notes contain an essay by Paul Griffiths on the composition and its place in Feldman's oeuvre, in English and German.
Having previously owned only the original LP on the CRI label, the fourth movement for Viola and Orchestra is entirely new to me, and an excellent addition to the work as I've known it.
While the entire CD clocks in at only about forty minutes, I feel it was a good programming choice to present The Viola In My Life as the only work on this release. "Filling out" the disc with other selections would only serve to weaken the impact of this important work, which deserves to stand on its own.