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American Classics - Crumb: Songs, Drones, Refrains Of Death

Release Date: 06/20/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559290   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Crumb
Performer:  Hans-Peter AchbergerPeter DegenhardtCarmen ErbFrancisco Obieta,   ... 
Conductor:  Fuat Kent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble New Art
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death is one of the richest of George Crumb's brilliant and moving explorations of the poetry of Lorca, musically inspired by such pieces as Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Like so much of Crumb's mature music, it uses avant-garde performance techniques and unusual instruments (percussion especially) plus electronics to create a primal, elemental atmosphere. In this sense, the music stands in the tradition of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring or Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin, both works where an exceptionally refined and sophisticated technique is used unflinchingly to depict visions of mystery, evoke primitive rituals, and explore the ancient myths of our Read more collective unconscious. In this respect, no poet is better suited to musical setting than Lorca, and no composer has ever responded to him more evocatively than Crumb.

The performance here under Fuat Kent is a very good one. Most Crumb recordings tend to be successful because either the players know what they are doing, or they don't, and faking it is not an option; the mere process of delivering what Crumb's highly detailed scores demand virtually guarantees a high level of achievement. But there are differences between this recording and Bridge's benchmark version with baritone Sanford Sylvan and Speculum Musicae (part of its complete Crumb edition). These primarily concern tempo: this newcomer is about four minutes slower overall, and this is particularly noticeable in the long final movement, Death-Drone III. Although Crumb's music relies heavily on sheer atmosphere, and absolute speed as such is rarely an issue, I marginally prefer the Bridge recording for its inevitably greater density of incident. The atmosphere basically takes care of itself. Still, this performance is very well played. The exciting bits (Song of the Rider and Cadenza appassionata for two drummers) are thrilling, and baritone Nicholas Isherwood certainly is as persuasive in his declamation of the text as Sylvan.

Quest--a remarkable sextet that includes important parts for guitar, harp, soprano saxophone, keyboards, and percussion (including a harmonica or concertina at the end)--was written for guitarist David Starobin. It's a watershed in Crumb's output for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that it permitted Crumb to work his way out of a serious writer's block in the 1990s. The piece also makes frequent reference to the song "Amazing Grace", thus anticipating the epic cycle of folk-song settings (four collections to date) that loom large in the composer's recent work.

Once again, this work is available on Bridge performed by its dedicatees, superbly, but this newcomer is hardly less accomplished or less favorably recorded, and in the final analysis if you want these two pieces (they are coupled differently on Bridge) then you can purchase this disc with complete confidence in its faithfulness to the composer's unique vision. It's good to see Crumb's music being performed and recorded regularly again. Without question, he is a great composer with a very special voice.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death by George Crumb
Performer:  Hans-Peter Achberger (Percussion), Peter Degenhardt (Harpsichord), Peter Degenhardt (Piano),
Carmen Erb (Percussion), Francisco Obieta (Double Bass), Alexander Swete (Guitar),
Nicholas Isherwood (Baritone)
Conductor:  Fuat Kent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble New Art
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; USA 
Venue:  Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland 
Length: 29 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland (06/12/2004 - 06/15/2004) 
Quest by George Crumb
Performer:  Hans-Peter Achberger (Percussion), Silke Aichhorn (Harp), Alexander Swete (Guitar),
Francisco Obieta (Double Bass), Carmen Erb (Percussion)
Conductor:  Fuat Kent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble New Art
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
Venue:  Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland 
Length: 25 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Notes: Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland (06/12/2004 - 06/15/2004) 

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