American Classics - Crumb: Songs, Drones, Refrains Of Death

Regular price $11.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death is one of the richest of George Crumb's brilliant and moving explorations of the poetry of Lorca, musically inspired by such pieces as Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Like so much of Crumb's mature music, it uses avant-garde performance techniques and unusual instruments (percussion especially) plus electronics to create a primal, elemental atmosphere. In this sense, the music stands in the tradition of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring or Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin, both works where an exceptionally refined and sophisticated technique is used unflinchingly to depict visions of mystery, evoke primitive rituals, and explore the ancient myths of our collective unconscious. In this respect, no poet is better suited to musical setting than Lorca, and no composer has ever responded to him more evocatively than Crumb.

The performance here under Fuat Kent is a very good one. Most Crumb recordings tend to be successful because either the players know what they are doing, or they don't, and faking it is not an option; the mere process of delivering what Crumb's highly detailed scores demand virtually guarantees a high level of achievement. But there are differences between this recording and Bridge's benchmark version with baritone Sanford Sylvan and Speculum Musicae (part of its complete Crumb edition). These primarily concern tempo: this newcomer is about four minutes slower overall, and this is particularly noticeable in the long final movement, Death-Drone III. Although Crumb's music relies heavily on sheer atmosphere, and absolute speed as such is rarely an issue, I marginally prefer the Bridge recording for its inevitably greater density of incident. The atmosphere basically takes care of itself. Still, this performance is very well played. The exciting bits (Song of the Rider and Cadenza appassionata for two drummers) are thrilling, and baritone Nicholas Isherwood certainly is as persuasive in his declamation of the text as Sylvan.

Quest--a remarkable sextet that includes important parts for guitar, harp, soprano saxophone, keyboards, and percussion (including a harmonica or concertina at the end)--was written for guitarist David Starobin. It's a watershed in Crumb's output for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that it permitted Crumb to work his way out of a serious writer's block in the 1990s. The piece also makes frequent reference to the song "Amazing Grace", thus anticipating the epic cycle of folk-song settings (four collections to date) that loom large in the composer's recent work.

Once again, this work is available on Bridge performed by its dedicatees, superbly, but this newcomer is hardly less accomplished or less favorably recorded, and in the final analysis if you want these two pieces (they are coupled differently on Bridge) then you can purchase this disc with complete confidence in its faithfulness to the composer's unique vision. It's good to see Crumb's music being performed and recorded regularly again. Without question, he is a great composer with a very special voice.
--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559290

  • UPC: 636943929025

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: George Crumb

  • Conductor: Fuat Kent

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ensemble New Art

  • Performer: Alexander Swete, Carmen Erb, Francisco Obieta, Hans-Peter Achberger, Nicholas Isherwood, Peter Degenhardt, Silke Aichhorn


  1. Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death

    Composer: George Crumb

    Ensemble: Ensemble New Art

    Performer: Hans-Peter Achberger (Percussion), Peter Degenhardt (Harpsichord), Peter Degenhardt (Piano), Carmen Erb (Percussion), Nicholas Isherwood (Baritone), Francisco Obieta (Double Bass), Alexander Swete (Guitar)

    Conductor: Fuat Kent

  2. Quest

    Composer: George Crumb

    Ensemble: Ensemble New Art

    Performer: Hans-Peter Achberger (Percussion), Silke Aichhorn (Harp ), Carmen Erb (Percussion), Francisco Obieta (Double Bass), Alexander Swete (Guitar)

    Conductor: Fuat Kent