Milton Babbitt / Morton Feldman / Mark Lieb

Morton Feldman, Milton Babbitt: Clarinet Quintets

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It would be hard to imagine two late twentieth century American masters of the avant-garde with more disparate aesthetics and approaches to composition than Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt, so this pairing of pieces for the same ensemble, clarinet and string quartet, is especially intriguing. Feldman composed almost entirely intuitively and instinctively, and Babbitt works with mathematical logic within rigorously systematic parameters. They are alike in their philosophical basis for creating art, however; Feldman was, and Babbitt remains, utterly committed to a distinctive artistic vision, regardless of how extreme or off-putting the results might seem to average concert-goers. The performances here are impeccable. Clarinetist Mark Lieb and members of the New York-based Phoenix Ensemble play with absolute commitment; their care in putting each of these pieces over with the intent to sell listeners on each composer's work is evident in the energy and nuance of their performances. This is especially evident in the Babbitt, where the precision of intonation, rhythm, and ensemble, and the liveliness of phrasing and articulation make a strong case for what is admittedly a "difficult" work. It's tricky to ascribe a definitive interpretation to any performance of a Feldman piece, given the nature and intent of his writing and the number of choices he leaves open to his performers; it's always possible to imagine a performance that could be quieter than what one is listening to. These players do an excellent job, though, creating a beautiful blend and a delicate contrapuntal web that capture the atmospheric timelessness the composer strives for. Innova's sound is immaculate, with a life-like presence.

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