David Crumb | Composer

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Reviews of Red Desert CD (Released 2015; Bridge 9450):

“This all-David Crumb CD from Bridge introduces a composer who writes music to which performers cannot help but give full measure…”
—Lawrence Vittes [Gramophone]

“It must be a blessing and possibly a curse to have a father renowned in the same field as yourself, but with this programme of “all première recordings, composed within a timespan of two decades” we are faced with a voice whose individual character shines through, and whose creative path is clearly distinctive and different to that of Crumb the elder… With very fine recordings and superb performances of some strikingly effective and at times inspiringly powerful work, this is a release which has plenty going for it. David Crumb is clearly a composer from whom we should, indeed must hear more.”
Dominy Clements [MusicWeb International]

“[This] combination of familial pride and independence is made possible by the unique signature of his own work, which is displayed here with an array of chamber music and solo piano music.”
—Peter Burwasser [Broad Street Review, Philadelphia]

“[Crumb’s] work [has] a spontaneity that’s quite attractive… 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.”
—Ralph Graves [WTJU Radio, University of Virginia]

Reviews of Third Angle's '2 Crumbs' Concert (January 19, 2005):

"David Crumb's "September Elegy," inspired by 9/11, and "Improvisations on an English Folk Tune"…both unfolded at an easy, thoughtful pace… "Improvisations" also featured captivating harmonies and contrasts of timbre; there were echoes of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in the sparse writing and ringing consonances but with an Appalachian flavor."
James McQuillen [Portland Oregonian]

"The differences that exist between father and son made this concert a rare and exquisite event… [David Crumb's] September Elegy for violin and piano…inspired by 9/11, conjured sweet triadic lullabies and single string notes as endless as distance. His improvisations on the English folk tune Scarborough Fair, however, pulled out every emotional stop, with the familiar melody visible, invisible and visible again against the turbid textures of strings, winds and piano, like a bird reflected in the imperfect mirror of a lake. 
—Grant Menzies [Willamette Week]

Reviews of Red Desert Triptych:

“…the massive 35-minute title-track, which Crumb calls a ‘veritable symphony for solo piano’, [includes] moments of granite that would have satisfied Beethoven. The work is inspired by the monumental grandeur of Southern Utah’s national parks… But this feels transcended as the pace and grandeur of each of its three movements sinks in.”
Lawrence Vittes [Gramophone]

“The work was initially inspired by the same national parks of southern Utah which resulted in Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles,…there is a similarity of scale and vision in the slow majesty of the first movement, Rock Cathedrals Rising. The second movement is Dance of the Hoodoos,… There is a greater and more pulse-oriented energy here, though this melts into a vanishing horizon before regaining rhythmic cohesion and drive, the coda once again spreading out towards huge and awe-inspiring skies. The final movement…is another vast and craggily inspired piece and a virtuoso tour de force for the pianist, powerfully rewarding but hard-won through a genuine thicket of dense material, the final minutes releasing us from the turmoil of life with the Dies Irae.” 
Dominy Clements [MusicWeb International]

“Red Desert Triptych, for solo piano, is the most substantial piece on this program, even as it is the most spare. It is that very economy of construction that lends the music a sense of solemnity, in the manner of the great French master Messiaen. Crumb was inspired by visits to the national parks of southern Utah, and with that knowledge in mind, you can hear the stark majesty of those spaces, and even the colors, in this music. It would be easy enough to let this material become sentimental or pompous, but Crumb calibrates his restraint with precision, and the pianist, the invaluable Marcantonio Barone, captures this quality with his usual combination of rock steady technique, intelligence, and stealthy passion.”
Peter Burwasser [Broad Street Review, Philadelphia]

“The most substantial work on the album is Red Desert Triptych. Crumb calls it a symphony for solo piano, inspired by visits to southwestern parks. It’s 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…performs Red Desert with élan, and a technique that makes the big gestures sound big, but not overblown.”
Ralph Graves [WTJU Radio, University of Virginia]

Reviews of September Elegy (Orchestral Version)

“…startlingly original works. The three pieces by father-and-son composers George and David Crumb were stunning examples of the possibilities of instrumental and vocal music… It seems every contemporary composer has a “9/11 piece,” but Crumb’s was refreshingly cliché-free… The work’s central section was an especially vivid distillation of the horror and disbelief of that dreadful day.”
Catherine Reese Newton [Salt Lake Tribune]

Unlike his father, who has explored and experimented with producing new sounds out of traditional instruments, David Crumb finds that tonality and traditional means are his primary media for creating works that are significant and relevant. But the music of both composers can stand side by side—neither one is compromised by the other. ‘They have only two things in common: their last name and their ability to write great music,’ [remarked] Gerald Elias, the Utah Symphony’s associate concertmaster… ‘It…has a haunting beauty to it. It’s emotionally charged and profoundly moving.’
Edward Reichel [Deseret News, Salt Lake City]

Review of Hearing Bells

"David Crumb's 'Hearing Bells' is based on ancient Chinese poems, which appealed to the composer's interest in illustrating the moods generated by nature… The composition…is full of breathtaking combinations of sound. There were too many to mention, but breathing into the flute, or using it as a percussion instrument with staccato lip sounds, worked well, as did some explosive combinations of piano and percussion. The vocal part seemed like Mahler as transcribed by Alban Berg." 
Christopher Hyde [Portland Press Herald]

Reviews of Primordial Fantasy: 

“…Crumb’s adaptation for piano and small ensemble of his Primordial Fantasy…shamelessly, raucously and winningly clamours for attention as it rises from an elemental goo into a semblance of coherent harmony and life.”
Lawrence Vittes [Gramophone]

“…a spectacular concert work and cleverly pieced together...”
Dominy Clements [MusicWeb International]

“…Primordial Fantasy show[s] off Crumb’s excellent craft, with a rather decorative sense for timbre blending and rhythmic variety. The brash sounding percussion…may be a nod to his father’s music, consciously or otherwise.”
Peter Burwasser [Broad Street Review, Philadelphia]

Reviews of September Elegy

“The 53-year-old composition professor at the University of Oregon wrote the piece after 9/11 and, for its gentle, timeless mingling of love and pain, it needs to be heard.”
Lawrence Vittes [Gramophone]

“Work on September Elegy was started before the 9/11 tragedy in the U.S., but the effect of such an event during its composition resulted in an inevitable and appropriate dedication to the victims of the attack. Framed by melancholy and lyrical moods, there is a “sudden dissolution” at the centre of the piece which stands for violence and destruction. This all leads to a moving final coda into which the spirit of J.S. Bach is invoked through haunting quotes of a chorale as the notes reach out into infinity.”
Dominy Clements [MusicWeb International]

“…the music has an eerily bipolar profile, with a rather traditional and upbeat first section, and concluding with a dreamy ending, including ghostly quotes from a Bach chorale that seems to convey both sadness and hope at once.”
Peter Burwasser [Broad Street Review, Philadelphia]
“September Elegy is an evocative work for violin and piano…Crumb incorporated his reaction to 9/11, giving the work a powerful emotional center, with wide-open intervals and poignant half-step turns in the melody.”
Ralph Graves [WTJU Radio, University of Virginia]

"Elias and Janove reunited in the first half in David Crumb's poignant "September Elegy," his musically forceful response to 9/11. The piece is tonal and traditional in format, yet intense in its expressions and quite emotional."
—Edward Reichel [Deseret Morning News]

Review of Harmonia Mundi:

"I like David Crumb's first piece, Harmonia Mundi. This spacious and dramatic work is scored for two pianos and two percussionists. He takes advantage of the resonant qualities of the pianos, and there are some beautiful doublings with cymbals and metallophones. He employs a curious pitch language that is sonorous but complex. The piece works fine on records, but I bet it would be a fantastic concert experience."
MacDonald [American Record Guide]

Reviews of Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble: 

"Crumb has written a…little essay that manages a graceful fusion of lush sonorities and faux-romantic harmonies within a taut, progressive structure. The basic tone is sweet, even when the inherent accents are not. The voice of the solo cello functions as part of an agitated ensemble, breaks loose in an effusive cadenza, and finally leads the way to an elegiac benediction."
—Martin Bernheimer [Los Angeles Times]

"Crumb's six-year-old piece is a winner. Any cellist would be glad to get his fingers on Variations, which takes about a half-hour to perform and conveys so particular and gripping a sound world one is hardly aware of time passing. The music begins with a tremulous motif. A harp plucks back an answer. From this, the cello finds its theme, stretching high and sustaining a phrase whose strange beauty concludes on a slight dissonance. Gradually, other instruments enter the discourse.  Colors become more vibrant, as the cello alters and argues its theme. Momentum builds, and suddenly a burst of percussion and woodwinds, a clamoring chaos that suggests Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's a wonderful moment because it catches us by surprise. Up to this happy climax, the music has sounded gravely searching."
—Lesley Valdes [Philadelphia Inquirer]

"The night's other big solo work was David Crumb's Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble, which basks in tonal language of appealing vibrancy and poetic appeal. The variations mix flavors of American folk idioms and other influences. You might discern a hint of Copland here and Stravinsky there, but Crumb's animated unfolding of materials has a forceful voice of its own."
—Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

"Crumb's 1993 Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble is the major prize on the disc…how can you argue with its intoxicating range of instrumental color?"
—David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer]

"It would be nice to know if David Crumb is related to George Crumb, who has often been recorded in this series. His Variations for cello and chamber orchestra are colorfully orchestrated, which suggests George, while both idiom and instrumentation are traditional compared with the rest of this generally spiky program. They are expressive and beautiful… 
—[American Record Guide]

"[Crumb's] 1993 Variations is a glowing work, sumptuous in its sound. Crumb definitely has a lyric sense related to his father's, and certain melodic formulae from non-Western scales trigger memories of George Crumb's music. The same goes for the full color palette, especially the ecstatic percussion writing. But David Crumb also tends to evoke a fuller orchestra sound, deliberately less tinged by silence. The music moves seamlessly from variation to variation (and the form itself is stretched to the limit, as the "theme" is over four minutes long and multisectional to begin with), and projects a Romantic spirit without sounding like a rehash of any precise previous music."
—Robert Carl [Fanfare]

"The final and perhaps most accessible work for the listener on this recording is David Crumb's Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble (1993). Despite its time-tested form, involving nine variations and tonal materials, this work is far from pedestrian. Crumb claims he is not interested in reiterating the past, and proves this claim throughout this 21-minute work. Rather than being representative of the past, Crumb simply nods at his predecessors. A total blend of styles is artfully displayed in this set of variations. Not only does it display the sometimes overly romantic style of the 19th century but seems to pay homage to the 20th century, as well—not as a classification for Crumb's work, but out of respect for what went before. The composer seems to be clearly separating himself from the past by simply acknowledging that these movements did exist. 

The theme opens with the sweetest, most soulful flute passage imaginable, its notes dripping with sonority, letting the listener know these are not traditional variations. In fact, the cello seems to emerge from the ensemble with each passing variation. This is, for sure, highly virtousic music which undergoes a dramatic personality change—from Bach-like solos, to rustic folk-like tunes, to sappy romanticism. The seventh variation is a cello cadenza, which appropriately seems to represent the melodramatic role of the 19th century soloist. The piece is a true amalgamation of musical styles…"
—Laurie Hudicek [New Music Connoiseur]

Reviews of Vestiges of a Distant Time

"…Crumb’s vision is filtered through an essentially ethereal aesthetic, based in very solid musical thinking. The result, even without its “story,” is both lyrical and inventive. The composer is an especially gifted orchestrator… A first-rate outing for composer, conductor and orchestra.”
Tom Manoff [The Register Guard, Eugene, Oregon]

"Mr. Crumb, inspired by visits to sites of ancient civilizations, has written a haunting, eclectic score that toggles between an eerie light dissonance and harmonies that hint at antiquity without actually quoting antique styles."
—Allan Kozinn [New York Times]

Reviews of Soundings:

“Crumb works…wonders with the unlikely trio of clarinet, bassoon, and piano…in Soundings…he produces a delicious new sonic environment by setting the two trilling, crooning and rollicking woodwinds against a glittering piano score.”
Lawrence Vittes [Gramophone]

“The composer admits to ‘a raw energy and level of excitement that might be expected from a (relatively) young composer’, but this is superbly written for the instruments, with both idiomatic and indeed at times virtuoso exploration of timbre and individuality in the high registers. The occasional use of damped piano strings is the only family ‘trademark’ sound here.”
Dominy Clements [MusicWeb International]

“Soundings…show[s] off Crumb’s excellent craft, with a rather decorative sense for timbre blending and rhythmic variety.”
Peter Burwasser [Broad Street Review, Philadelphia]

“In Soundings…Crumb…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.”
Ralph Graves [WTJU Radio, University of Virginia]

Reviews of Clarino:

"…attractive, accessible, imaginative, well-crafted…"
—Robert C. Marsh, Chicago Sun-Times

"[David Crumb] evinces a keen sense of the expressive uses of sound-collage and repetition. "Clarino" is visceral in its excitement."
—John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"Crumb…showed talents for imaginative and delicate textures and for putting an eloquently soft period to a piece…"
—Stephan Wigler, Baltimore Sun