DAVID CRUMB: “Red Desert” = September Elegy; Soundings; Red Desert Triptych; Primordial Fantasy – Marcantonio Barone, p./Fritz Gearhart, violin/Corey Hamm, p./Jerome Simas, clarinet/Steve Vacchi, bassoon/Robert Ponto, cond. – Bridge

DAVID CRUMB: “Red Desert” = September Elegy; Soundings; Red Desert Triptych; Primordial Fantasy – Marcantonio Barone, p./Fritz Gearhart, violin/Corey Hamm, p./Jerome Simas, clarinet/Steve Vacchi, bassoon/Robert Ponto, cond. – Bridge 9450, 65:29 [Distr. by Albany] (3/02/15)  ****:

Let me begin by admitting that I had no idea that the esteemed George Crumb had a son who is also a composer (and I have been a major admirer of George’s music for over forty years) Upon discovering that David Crumb is, indeed, the son of George Crumb; I admit that curiosity drew me to this album of David’s work.

Getting that out of the way, I am very impressed with the music of David Crumb and am more than a little embarrassed to read his music bio and not have known more going in. David’s music does contain touches, here and there, of his dad’s voice but he is his own appreciable talent.

For example, the opening work, September Elegy, is a gorgeous elegiac piece for violin and piano that pays homage to those who lost their lives in the events of September 11, 2001. It is a simply beautiful piece and holds your attention with rapture tinged with the implicit sadness throughout.

Soundings for the unusual combination of clarinet, bassoon and piano is a fairly short but quite nice work intended to highlight the particular timbres and abilities of this eclectic trio; the work was written for the NEOS trio in Mexico. There are touches of Stravinsky in here and even small little echoes of the composer’s father’s music. It is quite attractive and I’m going to let a bassoon friend of mine listen!

Crumb calls the solo piano work Red Desert Triptych his “most ambitious” work yet (and partly the album’s title). At more than a half-hour-long, maybe it is. It is also a very different sounding work, though, than the others on this disc. The title and the movement titles take their cue from Crumb’s admiration of the natural wonders in southern Utah. He even cites Messiaen’s ‘Canyon of the Stars’ as a model for this inspiration; though certainly no similarity beyond that point. This is a bold, dramatic and often beautiful work that places considerable demands on the pianist. It did remind me of some of Messiaen, actually; even some Rachmaninov. The final movement – a reference to Arches National Monument – is based on the f-minor fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and, later, closes with a brief but attention getting quote from the much used Dies Irae. If I had just a small issue with this work it would be that it does stretch a bit at thirty-five minutes (last movement in particular) and the Dies Irae has become almost a subliminal trigger for poignancy (George used it too; a lot) and there is a danger that it can become trite. All in all, though, this is a good work and really shows off a fine pianist, such the present Mr. Barone.

Primordial Fantasy is a very large-sounding chamber work with plenty of work for a solo piano surrounded by some great effects and virtuoso type passages for the ensemble. There are some particularly stunning moments for solo woodwinds and a large battery of percussion. This is a really interesting work written for Paul Freeman and the Orchestra 2001. The booklet notes tell us that Crumb intended the sounds and textures and title to represent the violent, murky and distorted conditions that probably existed on Earth at its creation. Compared to the other works, here, that’s about all the information we get but it was my favorite piece here.

I liked all the music by David Crumb here; especially Primordial Fantasy and September Elegy. David’s bio cites many other truly interesting works including some orchestral and chamber music that sound fascinating and I hope Bridge will release more of his music. Crumb is also a professor of composition at the University of Oregon.

—Daniel Coombs

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