Crumb: Makrokosmos I; Makrokosmos II

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WORKS: Makrokosmos I; Makrokosmos II
PERFORMER: Makrokosmos I & II; plus George Crumb & Margaret Leng Tan in conversation
Margaret Leng Tan (piano),
Alex Nowitz (whistler)


In the 30 years since George Crumb’s two Makrokosmos cycles first burst into the world, these two cycles of ‘fantasy pieces after the Zodiac’ have established themselves as one of the most significant contributions to contemporary piano literature.

Like a latter-day Well-Tempered Clavier, the 24 pieces are a self-conscious exploration of the musical possibilities arising from recent technical developments. The pieces are played as much inside the piano as on the keyboard, with myriad strummings, pluckings, whistlings, vocalisations and alternative dampenings. Crumb’s achievement, though, is that the resulting sounds are never mere gimmicks, but always play an integral part within an extraordinary musical and spiritual journey.


Margaret Leng Tan’s formidable pianism, allied to a profound sense of the innate choreography of the work, make this a marvellous visual as well as aural spectacle. Everything feels natural, from the gentle strummings of the opening ‘Primeval Sounds’ to the disturbing metallic pluckings of ‘The Phantom Gondolier’. The camerawork and production are subtly inventive, but there are too many times when the sound is not quite synchronised with the images. The joint interview is a useful extra, although it would have been preferable to have heard more from Crumb. Christopher Dingle