One of the challenges for the reception of music by Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) has been the difficulty the composer encountered in finding performers up to the task of recording his ensemble works with clarity and precision. While one is grateful for those brave souls who first tackled his compositions and recorded them for posterity, All Set, Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of his works, fills in some gaps and provides clear sound and well-executed renderings of several of his pieces. Composition for Twelve Instruments, one of Babbitt’s earliest integrally serial pieces, is given rhythmically crisp and expressive treatment. The title work, Babbitt’s most overtly jazz-influenced piece, employs the instrumentation of a jazz combo and, despite its serial design, gestures that remind one of modern jazz solos. The recording, with its ebullient gestures and snappy rhythms, demonstrates that the BMOP players can play formidable modernist works, but they can bebop too!
The group also tackles one of Babbitt’s trickiest pieces using tape, Correspondences, and provides an ardent reading of Paraphrases, one of Babbitt’s more labyrinthine scores (which is saying something). A suave version of Babbitt’s birthday tribute to Elliott Carter, In the Crowded Air, and soprano Lucy Shelton’s laser beam accurate rendering of “From the Psalter” round out the disc. All Set is one of the most important additions to the Babbitt discography in years. Of course, there’s more work to be done on behalf of Babbitt’s bigger pieces. Dare we hope that Gil Rose might tackle Relata and the Concerti on a subsequent outing?