Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crumb, accessible avant-gardist

Avant-garde is an art term destined to scare away 99% of the potential public, be it in fine arts or classical music. However, in my opinion, many people would appreciate the music of the American composer George Crumb (1929) if only they would listen to it. Enter Naxos as usual. This CD contains two beautiful pieces for small ensemble. Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death, dating back to 1969, is a setting poetry by Frederico Garcia Lorca for baritone, electric guitar, electric double bass, and percussion. It is definitely modern and avant-garde in its treatment of the voice as an additional instrument, yet it is surprisingly accessible. The second work, Quest, is more recent, with a first performance in 1994. It is scored for acoustic guitar, soprano saxophone, piano and electric harpsichord, harp, and percussion. The guitar has the most prominent part, but the soprano saxophone also has long solo sections. The music is mystical and reflective, whilst the use of the varied percussion section adds to the strange compelling character of this work. Excellent performance by the Ensemble New Art under Fuat Kent. Highly recommended as an introduction for an undervalued contemporary composer.