I’m not sure whether these recordings have been released before but they were made in September 1999 and are now released by Metier with a comprehensive sleeve-note by Christopher Fox, who, together with Feldman taught in Darmstadt between 1984 and 1986. Feldman’s work, very specifically titled Clarinet and String Quartet preceded the two composers’ meeting by a year and was dedicated to Alan Hacker, who premiered it with the Brodsky Quartet that year in Newcastle. It’s a work lasting some three-quarters of an hour and therefore not the same kind of animal as his more extended chamber works. It’s also a late work and focuses closely on clusters and repetitions of intense concentration. The specificity of the writing is reflected in the ever-changing patterns Feldman unfolds, ones that reappear with subtle rhythmic changes. Sometimes there are gaps in the texture and then the music starts up again with renewed life; sometimes, too, the clarinet takes on a more yearning, personalised tone. The effect is one of seamless-sounding change and an inevitability of utterance.
Fox’s Clarinet Quintet dates from almost a decade later. He too uses repetitions and patterns, occasionally slowing down for more refractive material. The clarinet seems to have life both inside and outside the quintet medium; it takes hold of opportunities for solo display whilst also weaving into the unfolding textures of the quartet. Fox ensures there are lots of timbral contrasts and colour, some pizzicati too, though the music remains essentially “quiet.” There is a falling motif for the string quartet which Fox revisits in different guises; real concentration of utterance here in its thirteen minute span but there is also a real sense of space and vista. As it progresses, unlike the Feldman, we find a growing stripping down to the essentials.
Some might conjecture that these two works share a rather forbidding austerity but that’s actually not the case. Patterns, reflections, repetitions, colour and subtlety are in attendance in both cases, whether it’s the more extensive hypnosis of Feldman or the more active localised dramas of Fox.