GEORGE CRUMB: Sun and Shadow (Spanish Songbook II); Voices from the Heartland (American Songbook VII) – Ann Crumb, sop./ Patrick Mason, bar./ Orchestra 2001/ James Freeman – Bridge 9413, 62:03 [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:
This is the sixteenth volume of Bridge’s exceptional George Crumb series, and represents works of relatively late provenance, 2009 and 2010 respectively. His fascination with the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca is well known, though I am not sure that translating the texts into English was such a good idea, and the peculiar mystical quality of the amplified piano (and often other instruments as well in different cycles) seems curiously lacking in this piece. Crumb being Crumb, everything he does is worthwhile, one of the finest composers America ever produced, but I can’t get away from the feeling that he is written out in terms of this particular genre, which is curiously repetitive at this point in time, or at least that is the sense I get from repeated hearings of this work compared to his other Lorca settings.
With the seventh volume of the American Songbook, originally inspired by daughter Ann, and the singer on this recording who has made quite a name for herself in the Broadway and now jazz worlds, Crumb continues what was a brilliant idea. Though one cannot call his music “atonal” since it is infused with tonal elements, albeit in unusual and quite varied ways, he made the decision early on to give these melodies in pristine form “as is”. So it’s a little like hearing the familiar and even well-known through the haze of an essential and modern day sound world that the composer long ago created. The results are never anything less than fascinating, always elegant in their presentation, and more often than not, ravishing and beautiful.
Ann Crumb is perfectly suited to this particular enterprise, more so than she would be to some of the DeGaetani pieces of the earlier years, and brings freshness and vitality to the music. The four percussionists and amplified piano of Songbook are always intriguing, and if you haven’t heard any of this extended and quite significant work, by all means do so. For Lorca, if you are new to Crumb, begin with Ancient Voices of Children for one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century. Sound is excellent, as has been the standard with this series.