Crumb

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COMPOSERS: Crumb
LABELS: Bridge
ALBUM TITLE: George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland
WORKS: Sun and Shadow; Voices from the Heartland
PERFORMER: Ann Crumb (soprano), Patrick Mason (baritone), Marcantonio Barone (piano); Orchestra 2001/James Freeman
CATALOGUE NO: 9413

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George Crumb’s Sun and Shadow sets five Lorca poems, translated into English rather than left in their original form as in Crumb’s earlier settings, scored with relative restraint (for this composer) for soprano and amplified piano. Crumb’s ability to conjure a rich variety of sounds from a single piano is muted here, with ‘extended techniques’ kept to a fairly decorative level (see ‘Background to’, p77). In several songs there’s a lot of noodling on pentatonic themes, spiced occasionally by a touch of Bartók-style bitonality or percussive chords à la Stravinsky.

Voices from the Heartland, the seventh in Crumb’s American Songbook series, involves four percussion players in addition to a pianist and two singers. Its best moments, though, are relatively simple and restrained. ‘Beulah Land’ is set to Messiaen-like pentatonic chords slightly soured by added ‘foreign’ notes, sounding very beautiful despite the 1960s-style ambiance created by the vibraphone’s eerie interjections. The tranquility is twice briefly shattered by percussion-led splashes involving non-pentatonic interjections by the piano, as if a stone were thrown into a placid pool. Even more affecting is ‘Old Blue’, about a man and his dog, the master inevitably outliving his companion: the song’s accompaniment, busy with energetic percussion and piano playing, is suddenly silenced, leaving only a seething cymbal, followed by the grieving baritone soloist and subdued funeral drums.

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Daniel Jaffé