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George Crumb Makrokosmos I & II

Ellen Ugelvik (piano)

Simax PSC 1263

I looked forward to revisiting Makrokosmos, having enjoyed in earlier years Ancient Voices of Children, Voice of the Whale and Black Angels - the latter two with stories, hence the links - and several releases on the Bridge George Crumb Edition.

Perhaps it was unhelpful to come to Makrokosmos I & II almost straight after reviewing the ground-breaking Mode Records new release of all Berio's Sequenzas. After those, Crumb's pioneering music extending the piano from the keyboard under the lid seemed small beer - - 'more inclined to the decorative, in his preoccupation with exotic timbres and electronic manipulation of instrumental sound e.g. for "amplified pianos in a halo of evocative sounds, than substantive in its essence" (Makrokosmos III).

This new recording is of state-of-the-art quality, and new music specialist pianist Ellen Ugelvik impresses. But I think Crumb overstates his case. Much of the music is tonal or not far from it, and his requirement of the listener is a little grandiose: - - the spell must not be broken from start to finish through the twelve separate pieces of each book; the attention of the listener must not be allowed to waver - - .

The presentation is a little odd; the cover image is so totally indicipherable that I have preferred to give you the strong portrait photo of Ms Ugelvik; five full page photos of her playing, mostly inside the piano, are not helpful.

So, not my choice, but it may be yours? Other responses welcome.

Peter Grahame Woolf