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George Crumb: Bad Dog!

Crumb / Starobin / Arnold
Release Date: 12/08/2009 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9312  
Composer:  George Crumb
Performer:  Tony ArnoldGeorge CrumbDavid Starobin
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GEORGE CRUMB: “BAD DOG!” Tony Arnold (s); 1 Robert Shannon (pn); 2 David Starobin (gtr, dir); 3 George Crumb (perc); 4 BRIDGE 9312 (DVD: 66:00)


CRUMB “ Yoda” and “Fritzi” from Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Mundus Canis. 3,4 Three Early Songs. 1,2 Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik. 2 Sit Down, Sister. 1,2,3,4 Apparition. 1,2


Don’t be misled by the ugly/funny title of this DVD, nor by its funny/ugly cover picture. George Crumb is a charming, humorous gentleman, but this is a serious, smoothly integrated biography, interview, and concert of the man and his music. Its subtitle is truer to its nature: A Portrait of George Crumb . David Starobin is the film’s director, narrator, and interviewer as well as its guitarist. The biography proceeds more or less chronologically, with narration and black-and-white photos of Crumb’s life, from childhood to the present day. At some points, the pictures race by, so one of the DVD’s extras is a sequential photo gallery with captions. The interview breaks in now and then, with Crumb talking of the people, the situations, the music. We see only the composer, not his interviewer (nor the narrator), which works well. Bits and pieces of many Crumb compositions, taken from Bridge’s 15-CD George Crumb Edition, serve as background music, but the bio/interview is interrupted five times for live performances of the works listed in the headnote.


The four artists are known jointly as the George Crumb Ensemble, but only in Sit Down, Sister do they get to perform as a group. The disc opens with Yoda , one of a series of pieces collectively titled Mundus Canis (he calls them “five canine humoresques”), depicting Crumb’s dogs; he scratches a gourd while Starobin strums the guitar. During the performance we also see Yoda romping in Crumb’s back yard, the picture intentionally distorted to look like a home video. During the piece, Crumb cries “Yoda” several times; as a coda, he shouts “Bad dog!” From that point on, however, the production is eminently serious. Crumb’s music is elegant and fascinating; he has always had a marvelous touch with sound. His use of prepared—and unprepared—piano is subtly beautiful, on the keyboard and under the lid. Before the performance of the Three Early Songs (written when he was a teenager), he says he still likes them, but that they represent the composers he liked at the time: Rachmaninoff and Barber, with little of what was to become his own music. After another canine portrait comes an extended piano solo, Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik , a set of nine “ruminations” on Thelonious Monk’s ’Round Midnight . Despite take-offs on Tristan and Till Eulenspiegel , it is an otherworldly work of many moods. Sit Down, Sister is a marvelous riff on the old gospel tune; the Crumb Ensemble has as much fun performing it as we do watching and listening. The 24-minute Apparition sets five stanzas from Walt Whitman’s moving meditations on death, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d . Crumb writes a brief vocalise between each stanza and then repeats the opening one.


All the performances are beyond criticism. Audio and video quality are exquisite, to which the airy, luminous, transparent ambience of the Recital Hall at SUNY Purchase, New York, is a major contributor. It is an ideal space for Crumb’s haunting music. Choosing DTS 5.1 surround sound over stereo or Dolby 5.1, I’ve never heard finer. The accompanying booklet includes song texts and brief descriptions of each piece; there are no subtitles. This is a superlative production on every count.


FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

1.
Star Child: Excerpt(s) by George Crumb
Performer:  Tony Arnold (Soprano), George Crumb (Percussion)
2.
Apparition by George Crumb
Performer:  Tony Arnold (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; USA 
3.
Early Songs (3) by George Crumb
Performer:  Tony Arnold (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; USA 
4.
Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik by George Crumb
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
6.
Mundus Canis: Excerpt(s) by George Crumb
Performer:  David Starobin (Guitar)
7.
Pastoral Drone: Excerpt(s) by George Crumb
8.
Quest: Excerpt(s) by George Crumb
Performer:  David Starobin (Guitar)
9.
Sit Down Sister: Excerpt(s) by George Crumb

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