LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Makrokosmos, Vol. 1; Makrokosmos, Vol. 2; Der Schlangenträger
PERFORMER: Christiane Mathé (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6409-2
A touch misleadingly, this disc’s cover bears the legend ‘Makrokosmos, Volume 1’. Actually it contains both books one and two (1972 and 1973) of the American composer George Crumb’s four-book compendium. Both consist of twelve ‘fantasy pieces after the Zodiac’ for amplified piano; each piece is dedicated to a particular initialled individual as well as to a star sign. There are homages galore here. The title speaks of an admiration for Bartók’s Mikrokosmos as well as to Crumb’s interest in the cosmos. The composer refers to Chopin in ‘Dream Images (Love-Death Music) – Gemini’. ‘Tora! Tora! Tora! (Cadenza Apocalittica) – Scorpio’ is Liszt in diabolic mode, and its successor, ‘A Prophecy of the Nostradamus (Symbol) – Aries’, clinches the connection with its resource to the Dies irae plainchant.
The music exploits the full post-Cageian panoply of special effects, with electronic modification of the various sounds made inside the piano, and with shouting, singing and whistling to boot. Crumb’s approach to his art is essentially mystical; these are mesmeric, magical rituals. Some will suspect that Crumb’s intuitive sense leads nowhere beyond rhetoric and skilfully calculated sound effect. But I am convinced, not least thanks to Christiane Mathé’s vividly imagined performances. Stephen Pettitt