verses

Our recording of Barbara Monk Feldman's chamber music, verses, was released in May 2021

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[…] the compositions seem well-selected to fit with the musicians […] On each track, the quiet restraint of Monk Feldman's music is conveyed sympathetically by the two; it feels as if they have totally understood the composer's intentions […]

 

The Barton-Benjamin-Rhys trio proves just as suited to Monk Feldman as before. Sounding in touch with each other's instincts, they give a performance that will be hard to better. Verses is highly recommended for those who are already Monk Feldman aficionados or those who wish to discover her music.

​John Eyles, All About Jazz, Jul 2021

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New discs from two Canadian composers – Linda Catlin Smith and Barbara Monk Feldman – and both are standouts. They are the latest releases in the invaluable Canadian Composers Series from Another Timbre. As we’ve come to expect from this innovative British label, the sound is stellar and the performances, by some of Britain’s top contemporary music specialists, are consistently terrific. [...]

Monk Feldman’s realm extends from the enchanted vistas of Duo for Piano and Percussion and the eerie mists of Verses for Vibraphone to the uplifting choralelike contours of Clear Edge for solo piano.

 

The I And Thou, from 1988, is dedicated to Monk Feldman’s teacher and husband, Morton Feldman, who had died the previous year. Here she weaves a fabric of luminous stillness. Yet beneath the shimmering surface an uneasy presence stirs, unarticulated but palpable, especially with pianist Siwan Rhys’ sensitivity to the mood of longing that suffuses this moving work. [...]

 

The Northern Shore [...] covers a vast expressive territory, from precisely shaped and positioned tones to an unexpectedly effulgent passage of delicate piano chords marked “freely”. The responsiveness of percussionist George Barton and pianist Rhys is beautifully matched by the imaginative palette of colours from Canadian violinist Mira Benjamin (a member of Apartment House).

​Pamela Margles, The Whole Note, Sep 2021

[…] This dialectic between abstraction and figuration, imagination and reality, functions also as an apt metonymy for the music of Monk Feldman, as played superbly by the GBSR Duo [...]

 

Throughout the album, Rhys’ and Barton’s touch and timing are remarkable, weighting each chime of piano and flutter of vibraphone with precision and care, and Benjamin’s embellishments convey a vivid sense of volume and space. […]

Verses [is] rigorous and exacting in choice and arrangement of materials, but also inquisitive and inviting, unhurried, uncluttered, and unpretentious. Monk Feldman’s music places a finger on the pulse of the inscapes and instresses of the natural world; it translates subjective truth into objective beauty. [...]

 

Verses […] makes it clear that Barbara Monk Feldman is equally as gifted as her more famous contemporaries, and I can only hope that others find her music as revelatory and healing and necessary as I do.

​Spencer Pate, The Light of Lost Words, Jun 2021

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This is music that flirts with silence, but which I find anything but fragile - there's an intensity, a vehement and vibrant detail to this quietness.

[...]

GBSR shine light into the majestic fine detail and mysterious time-dilation that happens in the music of Barbara Monk Feldman, Search this album out.

​Kate Molleson, BBC Radio 3 New Music Show, May 2021

Verses is a collection of works for one, two and three musicians, sharing an intimacy of scale and a delicacy of touch. In the opening Duo for Piano and Percussion, the former is shadowed almost imperceptibly by the latter, with chimes and mallet instruments acting as a treatment of the piano, altering the colouration and adding faint echoes to disturb the background. That delicacy never lapses into preciousness, as Monk Feldman keeps the balance of sound and silence in constant tension, always holding energy in reserve and only occasionally letting short, lyrical flourishes burst forth. […]

 

The GBSR Duo […] are joined by violinist Mira Benjamin on the longer The Northern Shore and it’s here that they truly excel in guiding the ear from one instrument to the next as the music passes through the scenery with unhurried but determined pace.

​Ben Harper, Boring Like A Drill, Jun 2021

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Barbara Monk Feldman is little represented on disc, so this is a very welcome release. On cursory listening, Monk Feldman’s music is a satellite of the music of her deceased husband (Morton); the stylistic inheritance is unmistakable. But once you get past this, Monk Feldman’s distinctive qualities can be appreciated.

The Northern Shore [...] evokes that natural image through an extremely limited palette and careful use of registral contrast. This is contemplative music. Very little happens other than drawn-out violin notes, piano chords left to resonate and slowly decay, an occasional swelling marimba trill. At times it feels like music denuded absolutely of tangible features: we are listening to what’s left over when habitual babble is utterly wiped away. And what is left over? Deep emotional states: not so much the titular waterscape itself as how you feel before the rippling tidal surface and the wind on your face.

Duo for piano and percussion opens the album in the same vein: slow tempo, quiet dynamic, sparse texture, long resonant decays. Monk Feldman’s large-scale harmonic trajectories are fascinating here; the music always orbits and draws away from tonal centres, a relatively orthodox chord being followed by a dissonance whose tension resembles more a timbre than a harmony, which in turn pivots into some new source of stability.

The I and Thou for solo piano, with the reverb pedal depressed throughout, alternates fast broken-chord figures with slow single notes and dyads like flecks of paint on a white canvas. Just when you feel lulled into a definite tonal area, Monk Feldman introduces a chromatic element, keeping your ear awake.

Liam Cagney, Gramophone, Oct 2021

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Clear Edge is a luminous solo piano work with a gorgeous piano sound, beautifully recorded at Goldsmiths College by Siwan Rhys. Barbara Monk Feldman talks a lot about colour and you hear those shifting colours in this work, changing densities of chords, and landings on great big open intervals. It has a stop-start quality as sound objects are juxtaposed and placed in silence. That sort of deceptively tentative, unsure-of-itself quality gives it a beautiful vulnerability which I just find so appealing.

​Gillian Moore, BBC Radio 3 Record Review, Sep 2021

The five works radiate Monk Feldman’s “sense of the musical imagery hovering in one place, as it were, attended by a fluidity in the slow transitioning of the harmonic color”. GBSR Duo’s performance captures beautifully this kind of elusive sense of imagery. Rhys’ piano melts gently into the resonant, floating sounds of Barton’s vibes and vice versa. Their performance has a subtle, venerable intimacy, constantly flirts with silence and flows naturally with meditative and almost transparent ripples. The two extended pieces - “The I and Thou” (1988) for solo piano and “The Northern Shore” (1997), after the Gaspé peninsula in eastern Québec where the St. Lawrence river meets the Atlantic ocean, a place that Monk Feldman visits every summer, for the GBSR Duo with violinist Benjamin - demonstrate best the inspiring, poetic qualities of Monk Feldman.

 

GBSR Duo’s performance of Monk Feldman’s music offers a rare sense of quiet, healing catharsis, music that stretches into timeless distances. It gently molds a profound but unpretentious spiritual listening experience, with highly nuanced colors and a remarkable balance between sound, silence and space.

​Eyal Hareuveni, The Free Jazz Collective, Sep 2021

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For all its sparsity there is little silence. The long reverberating decay of bell and piano and vibraphone a field of gradient brightness and saturation, undulating into the unsounding, fading but rarely fully, another sounding beginning as the previous melody draws near inaudibility. The many-hued melodies capacitated by the broad tonalities of their many bars and keys and the melodies themselves of seemingly different saturations, viscous in time, slow and slower and sometimes so slow they are unmelodies. Dissolved structure. Pure color. As abstract visuals do, each sound invites a detailed listen to its individual complexities through time and its mutable relationships to others in space. […] I’m surely biased by the context, but the way in which the pieces arrange silence, sound, and space, tone, melody, and color evokes painterly decisions as much as musical ones.

​Keith Prosk, Harmonic Series, Jul 2021

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It is once again the young George Barton and Siwan Rhys (now GBSR Duo) who give body to Monk Feldman’s distinct emotional microcosm: within it the predominance belongs to melodic percussions, meaning the round and resonant timbres of piano and vibraphone, intended as palettes of pure colors to be mixed or overlaid with large and patient fields; only in total devotion to the sound gesture, in fact, can the inner view approximate the spontaneous balance of the external elements, “mute” actors of a reality that offers itself to human perception without intrinsic meanings, almost as if it were completely unintended. [...]

What remains is to hope, starting from this fascinating portrait album, that Barbara Monk Feldman’s music will spread and make its way in the repertoire of contemporary performers and, consequently, in the record productions of other prestigious labels.

​Michele Palozzo, Esoteros, Mar 2021

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The changing instrument configurations add to the recording's appeal, with each piece presenting a different arrangement than the one preceding it. The austerity of the presentation gives it the compressed meaningfulness of poetry and encourages an introspective, meditative response in the listener. With sounds reduced to the essential, every musical gesture assumes heightened meaning, which in turn makes the material all the more engrossing, however spare it is. Aptly put by Barton and Rhys, “This music has a meditative, unpretentious, unassuming aspect to it, but it also hints at a kind of heroic internal quest: always quieter, always purer, always less affected, as if stripping away the layers of the sounds themselves.” That Monk Feldman has an interest in Noh Theatre (referenced in an interview with her conducted by GBSR Duo) comes as no surprise.

Despite the differences between the five pieces, certain aspects are common to all, including pacing so slow it makes the sounds seem as if they're hovering or suspended in space. Rhys and Barton demonstrate remarkable sensitivity to dynamics and space in their rendering of 1988's Duo for Piano and Percussion, with his vibraphone and her piano generating a shimmering tapestry. Sprinkles of tones appear like the gentle utterances of wind chimes as faint bell accents appear ‘behind' the primary instruments. In this and other pieces, sustain is integral to the character of the soundworld created when piano and vibraphone lend themselves so naturally to tinting with subtle colour the spaces between the notes.

Barton's by himself for 1994's Verses for Vibraphone, but he generates a compelling panorama for its five-minute performance, with sounds again positioning themselves at distinct locations. Rhys performs solo too, in her case The I and Thou (1988) at the album's centre and Clear Edge (1993) at its end. While the pensive former advances at a glacial pace conducive to contemplation, the latter caps the release with a bright, ruminative reverie. In pushing past thirty minutes and converting the duo to a trio, The Northern Shore (1997) understandably dominates, even if its tone is consistent with the overall character of the release. Minimal violin utterances appear softly alongside piano and percussion, the three elements carefully intertwined in Monk Feldman's arrangement. The title refers to a place she visits every summer in eastern Quebec where the St. Lawrence River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and certainly the writing suggests the elemental timelessness of interactions between water, wind, and air. While the presentation is largely peaceful, the piece isn't lacking for incident, with the music subtly ebbing and flowing as it wends its deliberate way.

​textura, Aug 2021

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