GEORGE CRUMB: Orchestral Music – Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Conlin, conductor – Bridge 9174 – 71 min. *****:

George Crumb’s compositions are generally more chamber-oriented, and
this disc of Crumb’s orchestral works is not part of the Complete Crumb
Edition currently being issued on the Bridge label. However, all of
these works have appeared at some point in the complete edition so far,
and this stunning disc simply serves to collect his orchestral
compositions in a single location. One word – orchestral blockbuster –
(okay, two words) might best describe this superb collection, and it’s
an excellent introduction for the uninitiated to Crumb’s growing
catalog of works.

Serialism definitely has influenced Crumb’s pen, but his orchestral
works tend to be much more melodic than those from the twelve-tone
school, and his instrumentation is more diverse, incorporating a dense
barrage of percussion with heavy eastern Asian influences. He also
incorporates unorthodox tunings of traditional instruments to achieve
many of the sounds his orchestral palette requires. The opening track,
A Haunted Landscape, uses a pair of double basses tuned to produce a
constant 60-hertz, b-flat drone throughout that I would have sworn was
electronically created. As with all of his works, these pieces contain
often dramatic dynamic contrasts, and you may find yourself frequently
startled by the intensity of the music. In his Pulitzer-Prize winning
piece Echoes of Time and the River; its gently percussive opening lulls
you into a relaxed sense of complacency, from which you’re abruptly
awakened by a percussive barrage of shocking intensity. Star-Child, the
disc’s final work, represents Crumb’s longest and most ambitious
orchestral offering to date, and incorporates a large orchestra,
soprano, children’s choir and male choir. The soprano sections were
more than a touch reminiscent of Berg’s Lulu – soprano Susan Narucki is
superb, and the Latin texts employed throughout add to the sense of
mysticism.

Sound quality, as with all Bridge releases, is beyond reproach. If you
already own the other discs in Bridge’s Complete Crumb Edition, getting
this one might seem redundant. However, if you’re only familiar with
Crumb’s chamber works, or are looking for a good starting point, this
disc is definitely it. Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs