Crumb: Makrokosmos I & II

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LABELS: L’empreinte digitale
WORKS: Makrokosmos I & II
PERFORMER: Toros Can (piano)
Each volume of Makrokosmos is subtitled ‘Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac for Amplified Piano’, and if I add that the pianist sometimes has to play directly on the strings, shout or chant, you might guess that this music comes from the fanciful, self-indulgent Seventies. Right date, but it’s not self-indulgent, and the individual titles attached to each piece are no more fanciful than those of Debussy’s Préludes. If you listen without preconceptions, you’ll hear strong echoes of Messiaen – the opening of the first volume, ‘Primeval Sounds’, is close in mood and texture to the ‘Amen of Creation’ in Visions de l’Amen, and elsewhere cosmic birds twitter in the heavens, in ‘Pastorale’, or more darkly, in ‘The Abyss of Time’. It needs an enormous range of colours, which this young Turkish pianist has in abundance, and he’s good at integrating the diverse elements, so that each piece is a contained whole rather than a ragbag. Some of it just shouldn’t work, like ‘Litany of the Galactic Bells’, where Boris Godunov rubs shoulders with the Hammerklavier Sonata, surrounded by strumming inside the piano. In fact, the effect is magical, especially when played with as much ease and sensitivity as here: this isn’t scary modern music. Martin Cotton