Crumb: Makrokosmos, Vol. 1; Makrokosmos, Vol. 2; Otherworldly Resonances

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LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Makrokosmos, Vol. 1; Makrokosmos, Vol. 2; Otherworldly Resonances
PERFORMER: Robert Shannon (piano); Quattro Mani
Much of George Crumb’s music of the 1960s and 1970s has worn badly. But together with the Lorca song cycle Ancient Voices of Children and the string quartet Black Angels, the two books of ‘Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac’ for amplified piano, Makrokosmos, which Crumb composed in 1972 and 1973, do just about stand the test of time. Certainly they come up well enough in this latest instalment (the eighth) of Bridge’s complete Crumb edition; what proves to be enduring in Robert Shannon’s vivid performances and is well captured by the closely detailed recording is Crumb’s genuinely inventive ear for sonority, which conjures the most extraordinary sounds from the piano. The 12 pieces in each volume of Makrokosmos are named after the signs of the zodiac, but that’s only a starting point. Other allusions abound in the music, and their symmetries and numerology spill over into the graphic ways it is notated in the score. What prevents this extra-musical baggage from collapsing into a heap of pretentiousness is always Crumb’s aural imagination, his unfailing sense of what sounds poetic. The music is often undeniably beautiful, elsewhere sheerly terrifying, and that same precision of gesture can still be heard in the 2002 two-piano piece Otherworldly Resonances, although the musical substance is even more pared down, even more tenuous. Andrew Clements