Morton Feldman / Milton Babbitt / Phoenix Ensemble Clarinet Quintets

Many new music folks would wholeheartedly agree that composers Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt are, in meaningful ways, polar opposites. Yet their music, heard side-by-side here in performances by the prodigiously talented Phoenix Ensemble string quartet and clarinettist Mark Lieb, share unsuspected affinities. Babbitt's music, with its mathematical, scientific underpinnings and uncompromising cerebral nature, seems an odd choice to pair with the more intuitive, spacious, sometimes languorous music of Feldman, who was deeply effected by his visual art contemporaries. Feldman's "Clarinet and String Quartet" is filled with lush chordal voicing and beautiful, almost pastoral clarinet sections. The three-movement work makes for both a relaxing and uplifting listening experience. Babbitt's almost unknown "Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet" is much denser, brimming with angular clarinet lines and deliciously dissonant string parts, which interact with a ballet ensemble's grace. The ensemble's dynamics and careful attention to timbre balance make even the subtlest interactions clearly perceptible. New music this accessible is a treat. (Innova)