Reich • Barber • Crumb

COMPOSERS: Reich Barber Crumb
ALBUM TITLE: Reich • Barber • Crumb
WORKS: Different Trains; String Quartet in B minor; Black Angels (Images I)
PERFORMER: Quatuor Diotima

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Samuel Barber, a conservative Romantic at heart, wouldn’t have relished sharing a disc with Steve Reich and George Crumb, leading figures in the stream of new music that swept him aside at the end of his life. And none of the trio, I hope, would approve of the CD’s provocative cover image: part of a bleak Stanley Kubrick photograph of a man and gun, aiming at a police van’s grill. The Quatuor Diotima’s vision of American music clearly doesn’t include the pastoral, the visionary, or Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Yet the conjunction of these three contrasting string pieces written across the 20th century proves useful, and stimulates thought.

Furthermore, Hughes Deschaux’s recording is terrific. It’s vivid and warm with a generous sense of
space – a major factor in the forceful impact of the tape-and-music tapestry of Reich’s Different Trains, and the amplified flamboyance of Crumb’s Black Angels of 1970, written in response to the Vietnam War. For all the anger in its opening screeches, Crumb’s piece eventually crumbles into his usual string of flashy effects. Ear-tickling sounds, at least. Time has been kinder to Reich’s 1988 musings on childhood and the Holocaust, made extra resonant here by the recording’s extraordinary clarity.

Stylistically, Barber’s String Quartet from the late 1930s, and the original home of his Adagio, stands apart like a lost child. Greater finesse and sharper entries would have added strength to the performance, but the sinew displayed in the first movement is valuable, and you can’t fault Pierre Morlet’s cello, always singing and sorrowful.

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Geoff Brown