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CD Review

George Crumb

Complete Edition, Volume 16

  • Sun and Shadow (Spanish Songbook II) *
  • Voices from the Heartland (American Songbook VII) **
Ann Crumb, soprano
* Marcantonio Barone, piano
** Patrick Mason, baritone
** Orchestra 2001/James Freeman
Bridge Records 9413
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Whoever believes that song cycles with names like Sun and Shadow and Voices from the Heartland should be folksy and cheerful completely forgot to tell George Crumb. Mind you, he wouldn't have listened, but these songs are beyond terrifying. They are also wonderful. Ann Crumb is the composer's daughter, and while not possessing a ethereally beautiful instrument, she doesn't need one here. She needs to merely express herself with every ounce of feeling she has to paint the text, and that's exactly what she does.

Sun and Shadow is based on Lorca's poetry, but is in English. Terrifying, viscerally-intense English, that absolutely chills the bones. It also makes the words come alive in a dreadfully intense way. Poetry is often seen as a "soft" subject, but there is nothing tender about these five utterly engaging, yet painfully draining songs. I'm not kidding. This is Crumb simply grabbing you by the throat and letting his daughter hiss, groan, and snarl every stanza at you. And yet, somehow it's not all noise. It's an emotional and thrilling rollercoaster ride that. Marcantonio Barone makes the music even creepier with his piano playing, which at points doesn't sound much like a piano at all. There is still much beauty here, but this music will take patience and time. It's not for the faint-hearted.

Voices from the Heartland completes seven sets of American melodies ingeniously set by the composer to pay homage to the rich tradition of the nation's many songs. The melodies are set "straight" per the composer's explicit intentions to preserve them, but this is equally challenging music to digest. Ann Crumb is joined by Patrick Mason, and by James Freeman and his Orchestra 2001. Crumb sings in a lovely way…when she is asked to sing. Her whispered lines remain spine-tingling (I never thought I would be frightened by the line "Jesus is coming"), and her range of expression awes as much as it haunts. Bridge's production values are unsurpassed. You'll know if you want this, but newcomers should be cautious. It really is a stunner, in a very good way.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman