Crumb: Makrokosmos; Vox balaenae (Voice of the Whale); A Little Suite for Christmas, AD 1979

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COMPOSERS: Crumb
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Makrokosmos; Vox balaenae (Voice of the Whale); A Little Suite for Christmas, AD 1979
PERFORMER: Andrew Russo (piano); Conchord
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 1076
George Crumb’s Makrokosmos was his major achievement of the Seventies, and as good a demonstration as any of his vivid aural imagination and rather less convincing musical thinking. The whole work consists of four cycles of 12 pieces, each modelled on the signs of the zodiac, but this first set written in 1972 for solo piano is easily the most palatable. Crumb’s music evokes a dreamlike state, in which an array of musical images, some of them direct quotations, others just second-hand, float to the surface amid a halo of gentle resonances which utilises every resource a piano and a pianist can command. It’s all deceptively seductive and profoundly meretricious.

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Vox balaenae, for amplified flute, cello and piano, pre-dates Makrokosmos by a year. The calls of humpback whales are its starting point, but typically they are only one element in a collage that also drags in Richard Strauss, microtonal scales from the Near East and African chant, and once again the grandiose aspirations of the music are out of all proportion to its musical substance. In A Little Suite for Christmas, AD 1979, inspired by Giotto, the debt is to Messiaen, and it really does seem like a poor man’s Vingt regards, but as with everything on this collection, the performance is deeply committed. Andrew Clements