Black Angels*; Makrokosmos III: Music for a Summer Evening**
*Quatuor Hanson; **Philippe Hattat, **Théo Fouchenneret (piano), **Emmanuel Jacquet, **Rodolphe Théry (percussion)
B Records LBM040 61:00 mins
When in 2004 George Crumb (1929-2022) remarked that his electric string quartet Black Angels ‘should inspire a sense of terror’, he was voicing a common response. Composed in 1970, it was a work fuelled by anti-Vietnam war protest, and ‘scared the bejabbers’ out of David Bowie when he first heard it, as it has many others since including viewers of The Exorcist (excerpts being featured on the soundtrack).
Quatuor Hanson bring an energetic clarity and radiance to this now cult classic – with just the right amount of reverb to ensure its brittle glassiness and ghostly echoes of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ are as spine-chilling as its unearthly whistling and raw scraped chords. Running the gamut from melody to noise, skittering percussion and vocalised sounds pinpoint a gathering, dreadful beauty in Crumb’s attacking shards and insect clouds.
The Dantean journey through hell seems at first about to be repeated in the ensuing – also live-recorded – Makrokosmos III: Music for a Summer Evening (1973), titled for the nature sounds of its ‘cosmic drama’. But the piano-percussion team of Philippe Hattat and Théo Fouchenneret, Emmanuel Jacquet and Rodolphe Théry unfold the timbral contrasts in such a way as to create an exhilarating spaciousness by the final movement, ‘Music of the Starry Night’. Inspired by Bartók’s Sonata for similar forces, Crumb’s ritualistic collage nonetheless inhabits an entirely different, fantastical realm that’s wonderfully wrought here.