GEORGE CRUMB: Makrokosmos Volumes I and II; Otherworldly Resonances – with Robert Shannon, piano/ Susan Grace and Alice Rybak, duo pianists – Bridge

by | Jul 29, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

GEORGE CRUMB: Makrokosmos Volumes I and II; Otherworldly
Resonances – with Robert Shannon, piano/ Susan Grace and Alice Rybak,
duo pianists – Bridge 9155 – 77 min. *****:

George Crumb is undoubtedly one of the finest and most original
composers to emerge from his generation in America. Bridge Records
should be commended for their ongoing project of releasing the Complete
Crumb Edition, which not only comprises his catalog of works, but also
includes world premieres of recent Crumb compositions. As superlative
as the sounds coming from this disc (Volume 8 of the complete edition)
are, any fan of modern classical music will find these volumes
indispensable.

Crumb’s influences are broad, but it’s a no-brainer to discover that
the major work here, Makrokosmos I and II, is styled after Bela
Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. However, unlike Bartok’s classic piano study,
Crumb’s work is scored for amplified piano, and many of the sounds
emanating from the instrument bear little resemblance to anything one
normally associates as coming from the piano. Pianist Robert Shannon
plucks, pulls, scratches and pounds the keys, strings and case of the
piano to create what is sometimes a cacophony of sound, but is often
quite tranquil in nature. Whereas many modern composers use this
seemingly “gimmicky” approach and generate, well, “gimmicky” results –
Crumb is a master at taking those same sounds and making them feel
quite at home in the concert hall. And although Shannon isn’t credited
with vocals here, he takes a cue from the late Glenn Gould and hums,
whoops and periodically shouts aloud – nothing in the accompanying
notes confirms whether this is Crumb’s intention, but the effect is
sometimes downright chilling! The minor piece here, Otherworldly
Resonances, feels just that – “otherworldly” best describes almost
everything I’ve heard by George Crumb.

Sound quality from Bridge is absolutely top-notch. Dynamic range is
formidable – these works are all studies in tremendous contrasts, so
don’t be too tempted to crank the volume in the quieter sections – the
transitions from pianissimo to fortissimo are frequent and can be quite
startling, and will offer an intense workout for your system. Very
highly recommended – it doesn’t get much better than this!

— Tom Gibbs

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