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George CRUMB (b. 1929)
Metamorphoses (Book 1) (2015-2017) [37:26]
Marcantonio Barone (piano)
rec. 2019, Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, USA
BRIDGE RECORDS 9535 [37:26]

This is volume 19 in Bridge Records’ intrepid and remarkably fine Complete Crumb Edition, and anyone with any familiarity with previous volumes will know a little of the qualities to be expected here. George Crumb is a master of extended techniques with the piano, exploring unusual timbres and resonances through manipulation of the strings in a variety of unconventional ways. Metamorphoses, book 2 of which was completed in 2019, is the latest in a line that includes the two seminal volumes of Makrokosmos from the 1970s, and an even more closely related piece from 1980, A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979, which took inspiration from Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua.

Metamorphoses (Book 1) is a cycle subtitled Ten Fantasy-Pieces (after celebrated paintings) for amplified piano, the titles of which are listed below. Steven Bruns’ booklet notes for this recording deal with each piece in turn with some useful technical pointers about playing techniques and Crumb’s own associations of musical ideas with the paintings. Nocturnal atmosphere is a strong element in Crumb’s music, and his choice of images reflects this in a number of these pieces. Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold (Southampton Water) is a good example of this, with mysterious notes creating points of light in a texture that includes strummed strings and the strange sound made by striking the wire coil of a suspended spring drum. This is a contrast to the open fifth notes that illustrate Marc Chagall’s The Fiddler which, working backwards, comes in between that and Crows over the Wheatfield by Vincent van Gogh, a psychological study of the artist working in his death-themed final days. The pianist here is asked to imitate “plaintively cawing crows”, which risks introducing an unintended element of comedy to the cynical listener.

A touch of theatricality also crops up in Chagall’s Clowns at Night, the music to which is described by Crumb as “a ballet grotesque for circus folk and poltergeist”, the moans of which infuse a slow spectral procession of effects and sounds including notes from a toy piano. Gauguin’s Contes barbares goes even further in this regard, with shouts of ‘Manao tupapau!’ a sharp reminder that spirits of the dead are watching, while the melting clocks of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory are given genuinely surreal juxtaposition, with sliding piano strings appearing against the hymn tune Amazing Grace. The cycle is completed with a violent musical portrayal of Kandinsky’s The Blue Rider, in which Bartók percussiveness blends with the terrors implicated in Schubert’s setting of Erl-King.

Marcantonio Barone’s recording of piano works by David Crumb (review) was very fine indeed, and his performances of Crum pčre are equally convincing and impressive. Bridge’s recording is of course excellent, catching every nuance in these sonically complex but always approachable pieces. Complaints about short playing time become less relevant the more we resort to downloading music rather than buying CDs, though I am left wondering if, had we waited a little longer, Metamorphoses (Book 2) might not have been included here. In any case, this is a major new work by one of today’s most significant composers, and you owe it to yourself to hear it.

Dominy Clements


Contents
No. 1. Black Prince (after painting by Paul Klee, 1927) [5:07]
No. 2. The Goldfish (after painting by Paul Klee, 1925) [2:48]
No. 3. Wheatfield with Crows (after painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1890) [4:30]
No. 4. The Fiddler (after painting by Marc Chagall, 1912-13) [3:34]
No. 5. Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water (after painting by James McNeill Whistler, 1872) [3:35]
No. 6. Perilous Night (after painting by Jasper Johns, 1990) [3:01]
No. 7. Clowns at Night (after painting by Marc Chagall, 1957) [3:59]
No. 8. Contes barbares (after painting by Paul Gauguin, 1902) [4:10]
No. 9. The Persistence of Memory (after painting by Salvador Dalí, 1931) [3:45]
No. 10. The Blue Rider (after painting by Wassily Kandinsky, 1903) [2:53]



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