Morton Feldman is one of the exceptions to the oft-quoted rule that composers’ reputations go into sharp decline in the decades immediately after their deaths. Feldman died in 1987, but he is now regarded as a far more important and influential figure in 20th-century music than he ever was during his lifetime. The Principal Sound festival is marking the 90th anniversary of his birth with a weekend of concerts exploring that significance. Framed by two of his epic late scores, Piano and String Quartet and For Philip Guston, the programmes place Feldman’s music alongside works he admired as well as pieces by composers who admired and learned from him.
Exaudi’s concert with their conductor James Weeks began with the earliest of Feldman’s published works, Only, a tiny solo-soprano setting from 1947 of a Rilke sonnet. Juliet Fraser perfectly shaped its seamless modal melody. It was followed by James McVinnie’s performance of Feldman’s only work for organ, Principal Sound, which hypnotically layered irregularly pulsing chords and far-flung constellations of notes over long-held dissonances.
The choral works in the lineup, as immaculately presented as we’ve come to expect from Exaudi, included the festival’s only world premiere. Jürg Frey’s Shadow and Echo and Jade created something quietly haunting out of a third-century Chinese text in English translation. Its stanzas were separated with unpredictable silences, and it occasionally blossomed into rich tonal harmony, though always using the full complement of eight voices frugally. Weeks’s own work, A Tear, in which small-scale organ solos separated increasingly elaborate treatments of a short Old English text, was a model of restraint. Aldo Clementi’s Im Frieden Dein, o Herre Mein was an exuberant tangle of close-packed canons. Cassandra Miller’s Guide, a rumbustious celebration of singing, could have learned a lot more from Feldman’s sense of restraint and quiet eloquence.
• The Principal Sound festival ends on 4 April.