David Crumb – Red Desert

“Red Desert” presents four world-premiere recordings by David Crumb. Crumb is a self-professed intuitive composer, letting the music take him where it will. It gives his work a spontaneity that’s quite attractive. To my ears, Crumb’s style seems post-tonal. That is, he’s not afraid of using triads and consonant harmonies, but he’s also not bound to use them traditionally.

September Elegy is an evocative work for violin and piano. Commissioned in 2001 by violinist Fritz Gearhart (who performs it here), Crumb incorporated his reaction 9/11, giving the work a powerful emotional center, with wide-open intervals and poignant half-step turns in the melody.

In Soundings, for clarinet bassoon and piano, Crumb (according to the liner notes) wanted to write idiomatically for the clarinet and bassoon. He succeeded. Each instrument has its own character, with the music thoroughly integrated into the technical demands of the instrument. Occasionally I was reminded of Stravinsky though — especially when the bassoon was playing in its highest register.

The most substantial work on the album is Red Desert Tryptych. Crumb calls it a symphony for solo piano, inspired by visits to southwestern parks. Its aptly titled. The music has a big, open sound to it. There are plenty of thick, shimmering chords and cascading runs — but its all for a purpose. Crumb captures the essence of the grandeur of big sky country. Marcantonio Barone (who premiered the work) performs Red Desert with élan, and a technique that makes the big gestures sound big, but not overblown.The final work on the album,

Primoridal Fantasy is an interesting one for solo piano and chamber ensemble. And it’s the least tonal composition of the four. One instrument after another rises out of the swirling primordial ooze of sound as its melody takes form. Then it sinks back, replaced by another.

Most reviews will lead with something I chose to omit — David Crumb’s father. That’s because David’s music has its own character and can stand on its own. I found these works quite compelling and well-crafted. This album persuaded me I need to further explore David Crumb’s catalog.

David Crumb: Red Desert
September Elegy; Soundings; Red Desert Tryptych; Primordial Fantasy
Fritz Gearhart, violin; Corey Hamm, piano; Marcantonio Barone, piano; Robert Ponto, conductor
Bridge Records 9450

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