Jan DeGaetani / James Freeman / Gilbert Kalish

Crumb: Ancient Voices of Children

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If an album's longevity is any indication of a work's success and acceptance, then George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children has secured its niche. Recorded in 1971 with Jan de Gaetani and Arthur Weisberg's Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, it has stayed in Nonesuch's catalog far longer than most other avant-garde works of the time. Much of this work's appeal is attributable to the haunting images in the poems by Federico García Lorca, which carry the imagination into a dark and mystical realm that seems utterly real and personal. For all their exotic sounds and inventive effects, Crumb's settings are always sensitive to the concept of duende ("spirit" may be the best one-word translation) underlying Lorca's words. But more than any other factor, de Gaetani's flawless performance makes this recording unforgettable. So closely is the sound of her voice tied to Ancient Voices -- Crumb had her in mind when he composed the songs -- that her influence will surely be felt in performances yet to come. Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III), released in 1974, was almost as popular and influential as the preceding work, but its novel effects and overt mysticism seem contrived and sometimes ludicrous, and the piece does not achieve the sublime heights of Ancient Voices.

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