Art Nouveau Ensemble

George Crumb: Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death

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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson

Nearly contemporary with his acclaimed masterpiece Ancient Voices of Children (1970), George Crumb's Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death (1968) bears many similarities with it and may be considered as cut from the same cloth, since both cycles are part of Crumb's larger concentration on setting the poetry of Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca. Along with Night Music I (1963), the two books of Madrigals (1962-1969), and Night of the Four Moons (1969), this dark work also represents the development of Crumb's mystical style, which was refreshingly original for the time in its allusiveness and eclectic approach. This 2006 Naxos release features a brooding performance by baritone Nicholas Isherwood and Ensemble New Art, conducted by Fuat Kent, which captures the emotional currents of the piece, if not with the finest details or best sound. At several points the recording seems muted and unclear in direction, as if acoustical baffles in the Radiostudio Zurich absorbed too much of the unamplified sounds, and made the already sparse textures seem even more rarefied and vague. Of course, one can always turn up the volume to hear the quietest bits, but this is not a workable solution for the whole piece, with its sudden fortissimo outbursts; listening on headphones may be the only viable option. Quest (1994), a sextet that partakes of the same nocturnal moods as Songs, though without a Lorca text, has more balanced levels and greater clarity on the whole, due to the fuller textures, more consistent dynamics, and absence of amplified parts. This instrumental work is primarily a chamber concerto, with substantial guitar solos that Alexander Swete performs with meticulous care; yet the prominent part for soprano saxophone, played by Hugo Read, is an interesting foil for the guitar and other plucked instruments.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death, for baritone, electric guitar & double bass, amplified piano & harpsichord & 2 percissionists
1 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:22 Amazon
2 Art Nouveau Ensemble 04:20 Amazon
3 Art Nouveau Ensemble 00:51 Amazon
4 Art Nouveau Ensemble 04:14 Amazon
5 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:05 Amazon
6 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:48 Amazon
7 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:56 Amazon
8 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:31 Amazon
9 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:04 Amazon
10 Art Nouveau Ensemble 02:08 Amazon
11 Art Nouveau Ensemble 08:48 Amazon
Quest, for guitar, soprano sax, harp, bass & 2 percussionists
12 Art Nouveau Ensemble 00:55 Amazon
13 Art Nouveau Ensemble 05:06 Amazon
14 Art Nouveau Ensemble 02:10 Amazon
15 Art Nouveau Ensemble 00:40 Amazon
16 Art Nouveau Ensemble 04:21 Amazon
17 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:05 Amazon
18 Art Nouveau Ensemble 01:03 Amazon
19 Art Nouveau Ensemble 10:04 Amazon
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