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Occasional Variations

Milton Babbitt Audio CD

Price: £12.57 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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1. String Quartet No. 6
2. Occasional Variations
3. String Quartet No. 2
4. Composition For Guitar

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Babbitt disc featuring two serialist string quartets 29 Jun 2005
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
That Milton Babbitt is a composer I should hear I figured out several years ago when I became interested in contemporary classical music. Babbitt was an American pioneer, taking the 12-tone music of Schoenberg and Webern further into total, or integral, serialism. Now I finally have, thanks to this superb Tzadik release of his music. The problem has been finding a recording that appeared promising -- Babbitt has certainly not been over-recorded, and I was not enticed by works for soprano or piano (ie, the ubiquitous PHILOMEL on New World).

I love string quartets, and so when I belatedly realized that OCCASIONAL VARIATIONS features two of Babbitt's string quartets, I knew his time had come. As it turns out, this is the premiere recording of String Quartet No. 6, written in 1993. The performers are the Sherry Quartet, named after the intrepid cellist Fred Sherry, who worked with the players in mastering the (need I say?) fiendishly complex score, and served as producer. The disc leads with No. 6, which is 25'45 long. String Quartet No. 2 (13'03) is programmed third. A 1952 composition, it sounds less daunting by comparison, more sparse, performed by the Composers Quartet. Both are fantastic works, which require, and compel, repeated listening to appreciate. Where are the recordings of Babbitt's other quartets? They stand beside Elliott Carter's quartets as pinnacles of the late 20th century.

The other two works serve as variations with the string quartet form -- "Occasional Variations," a 9'54 work for synthesizer from 1968-71, and "Composition for Guitar" (1984 -- 7'27), both fascinating works which provide contrast in terms of texture as well as solo lines versus the complexity of four interweaving lines. I am particularly struck by the guitar work, performed by William Anderson, which incorporates Babbitt's affinity for jazz.

*** *** ***

Tzadik's liner notes are frustratingly minimal. Tzadik discs always *look* good, and this one is no exception -- the black-and-white cover photo of Babbitt sitting in front of the synthesizer at the Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1960 is a nice touch. But you have to look on the Tzadik website to learn that this is the first recording of the 6th Quartet, and only the fine print reveals that the other three recordings were all previously released, in 1973 (Quartet No. 2), and the other two in 1990.

I'm not sure why the disc's title is not STRING QUARTET NO. 6, or STRING QUARTETS -- perhaps Zorn & Co. thought Babbitt's reputation as an electronic composer would be a better selling point with young hipsters, or just thought OCCASIONAL VARIATIONS made a catchier title.

This disc definitely provides an excellent introduction to a great American composer. Many thanks to John Zorn and Tzadik!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guitar piece of exquisite poetry. 30 April 2006
By Peter Heddon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
There's a classic Babbitt moment 1 minute into the 6th Quartet where out of all the animated atonal chatter emerges a blatantly tonal (eb major)motif.Almost Ivesian in it's sense of being all embracing,this jarring incident seems to provoke some hysterical pizzicato which proceeds in a most forceful manner.The architecture of this 26 minute piece becomes easier to discern on repeated hearings.

Occasional Variations is the most graceful,charming and delicate of electronic pieces and the second quartet is amusingly punctuated by octaves.A cooler discourse than the later 6th quartet.Not so immediately likeable.

Babbitt has a special affinity for the guitar and the 1984 Composition on this disc leaves me dumbstruck in its wistful musings punctuated by tremolandos.I definitely prefer this to Babbitt's Soli and Duetti which also feature guitar.

In terms of look,this is the most lovingly thought out of albums ,but the poor listener is only provided an unintelligble piece of writing by Babbitt on his Occasional Variations so not much help on that front!
4.0 out of 5 stars Great string quartet performances 1 Aug 2014
By Daniel M. Debertin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
There are four very different performances on this disc. Since they are performed by completely separate groups (one of which is a machine), I'll discuss them separately.

Two of them -- the two string quartets -- I care for very much. The second string quartet is Babbitt's first published quartet, and it bears the marks of his very early style. Regular (for him) rhythms, sections that are easy for the listener to pick out without glancing at a score, etc. To my ear it sounds vaguely witty -- you know he's up to something with the frequent emphases on different intervals, but he doesn't really tell you what until the game is up at the end. The performance is very fine, except for a minor skip in the middle that other reviewers have also mentioned.

The sixth quartet is an entirely different animal. Coming as it does at the end of Babbitt's career, it's longer and more complex -- there's just a lot more going on at every moment in this piece. It's very dramatic, which is unusual for Babbitt: usually his pieces have a somewhat monochromatic sameness about them (this is not a criticism; just an observation), but this quartet has well-defined peaks and valleys that make listening a real adventure. The performance is top-notch. I love the modernist approach to string playing -- no vibrato, no attempt to bring a Classical-era "niceness" to the sound. It's a real departure from other performers that attempt to bring technique to bear that would be more at home in a Mozart quartet. And, having followed along with a score, I can say it's about as accurate a performance as humans are capable of giving. I can't imagine the amount of rehearsal time it took to put this together!

I'm also just thankful that all of Babbitt's works for string quartet are now available in recorded form.

The other two works on this disc are for the RCA Mark II Synthesizer, and a solo guitar work. I can't say that I have ever really "gotten" Babbitt's music for either instrument -- the electronic work goes by too fast for me to grasp anything, and modern acoustic guitar writing just does not hold much interest for me. But the string quartets alone make this disc more than worth the money.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Babbitt at his best 8 July 2007
By Am I Dreaming - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Milton Babbitt wrote some wonderful pieces earlier in his career, but over time he has grown into transcendent mastery. The pieces on this album illustrate the point magnificently.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine selection. 3 Oct 2007
By Tom Furgas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Here's a teriffic CD, a fine selection of works by Milton Babbitt, who deserves greater exposure in the CD bins. This disc fills a real need and features works never before recorded. Two of his string quartets (no.'s 2 and 6) are kept good company with a work for organ, a work for guitar duo, and one of his rare electronic works done on the RCA synthesizer. Aside from some inherent sonic limitations in the electronic work the recording is impeccable and the performances in the instrumental works are first-rate.
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