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Complete George Crumb Edition Vol 12

Release Date: 09/09/2008 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9261   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Crumb
Performer:  Jacob GreenbergJamie van EyckClaire ChaseKivie Cahn-Lipman,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CRUMB 11 Echoes of Autumn. 2,3,4,5 The Sleeper. 1,5 Vox balaenae (Voice of the Whale). 3,6,5 5 Pieces for Piano. 5 Dream Sequence (Images II) 2,6,5,7 Jamie Van Eyck (mez); 1 David Bowlin (vn); 2 Claire Chase Read more (fl); 3 Joshua Rubin (cl); 4 Jacob Greenberg (pn); 5 Kivie Cahn-Lipman (vc); 6 David Schotzko (perc) 7 BRIDGE 9261 (70:52)

George Crumb continues a Western musical awakening that can be traced back to 1889, when Claude Debussy visited the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and heard Javanese gamelan music for the first time. From that experience he came to embrace even-tempered pentatonic scales, but most crucially, came to realize the importance of pure sonority both on the structural organization and the affective power of music. This epiphany resonated, to a greater or lesser extent, in his subsequent music, and inspired such following and diverse composers as Henry Cowell, John Cage, and Lou Harrison, among others. That influence continues to our day, and most eloquently so, in the music of George Crumb.

In Fanfare 25:1, I enthusiastically reviewed Volume 4 of this ongoing series, which offered Zeitgeist and Music for a Summer Evening , the last of which was, via a splendid Nonesuch recording from the 1970s, my initiation into the wonders and powers of Crumb’s well-honed language. The release under review is Volume 12, and it is graced by the virtues of the aforementioned Volume 4—performers with incredible chops by the highest of international standards who are deeply in tune with Crumb’s language and are fully capable of executing his extended-technique requirements. The excellent sound quality delineates Crumb’s subtle instrumental timbres and textures even in the quietest of pianissimos, and conveys the full scale of his often-extreme dynamic range.

The choice of Eleven Echoes of Autumn for violin, alto flute, clarinet, and piano of 1965 and 1966 to open this release was an apt one in that it posits philosophical themes and attitudes that inform all that follows. The cycle of seasons, in Crumb’s musical hands, seems like a window into infinity. Given that, Eleven Echoes of Autumn is, in a more traditional sense, profoundly autumnal music uttered by a finite human being. It is infused with melancholy—a longing for past brighter days—and an anticipation of the winter to come. Here the silences convey the same expressive power as the sounds that surround them. According to the liner notes by Steven Bruns, Crumb, in a May 2008 interview, “singled out this work as among his most difficult to perform, because it requires intense and unbroken concentration from the players,” which, I might add, it receives here in droves.

The Sleeper , composed in 1984, was written for Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish. The text is by Edgar Allen Poe, but it is altered and condensed by Crumb in a way that expunges its 19th-century theatricality and shows its inherent timelessness. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck has a beguilingly compelling voice, and is superb in all technical aspects. Her intonation and phrasing are beyond reproach, but more to the point, she fully realizes the composer’s intent in the piece’s melismatic and occasionally pan-tonal lines. A lesser singer would make them seem torturous. She makes them deeply moving.

Vox balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for three masked players of 1971 is quintessential Crumb. The three instruments are amplified, and their players are required to wear black half-masks throughout the deep-blue-lit stage performances, putting the viewer-listener in the deep and symbolizing the impersonal forces of nature. The piece was composed in response to the technologically advanced recordings of whale songs that came onto the scene in the late 1960s. Alan Hovhaness was similarly impressed and composed And God Created Great Whales in 1970, which quickly inspired a cult following (shades of Hermann Melville who was similarly driven by the metaphorical ramifications of the great leviathan). Crumb was impressed by the huge timbral and frequency range of these eerily otherworldly sounds, and resourcefully found the means to realize them. Give Crumb a piano, a toolbox, and proximity to an electrical outlet, and he will produce a virtual symphony orchestra. The piece begins with a vocalise subtitled “(…for the beginning of time).” It is is followed by five variations, each given advancing geological time titles from Archeozoic to Cenozoic. The choice of geological time references puts us on the brink of comprehending infinity. The final movement, “Sea Nocturne (…for the end of time)” offers some of the most subtly poetic and intensely lyrical music I have yet heard from Crumb.

Five Pieces for Piano from 1962 is the earliest music on this release, and given its Webernesque dynamic, metrical, and articulation demands—compounded by Crumb’s extended-technique requirements, including playing directly on the piano strings in a number of precisely notated ways—it presents an intermediary step in Crumb’s explorations into the piano’s sonic possibilities, and it provides a fine showcase for Jacob Greenberg’s talents.

Dream Sequence (Images II) was composed in 1976, and it provides an esthetic counterbalance to the fiendish Black Angels (Thirteen Images from the Dark Land) (Images I) for amplified string quartet composed six years earlier. Dream Sequence (Images II) is scored for violin, cello, piano, and percussion and communicates a profound, almost hallucinogenic serenity, muddying our sense of what is real and what is merely illusion.

This release fits into my category of required listening, and is, at this point, a Want List contender.

FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

The Sleeper by George Crumb
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg (Piano), Jamie van Eyck (Mezzo Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Vox balaenae by George Crumb
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg (Piano), Claire Chase (Flute), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; USA 
Length: 18 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Pieces (5) for Piano by George Crumb
Performer:  Jacob Greenberg (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 
Length: 11 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Eleven Echoes of Autumn by George Crumb
Performer:  Joshua Rubin (Clarinet), David Bowlin (Violin), Claire Chase (Alto Flute),
Jacob Greenberg (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Length: 15 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Dream Sequence "Images no 2" by George Crumb
Performer:  Kivie Cahn-Lipman (Cello), Jacob Greenberg (Piano), David Schotzko (Percussion),
David Bowlin (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Length: 16 Minutes 5 Secs. 

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