Metamorphoses (Book I) (2015–17) 41:49
Margaret Leng Tan, piano
George Crumb’s first and most recent piano works on one CD!
This important release couples George Crumb’s (b. 1929) earliest work for piano, the Five Pieces for Piano (1962) with his most recent piano cycle, Metamorphoses (Book I) (2017).
Margaret Leng Tan has long been a champion of Crumb’s music, and he composed Metamorphoses (Book I) for her. This recording is of the German premiere at the legendary Donaueschingen Festival in 2017.
Crumb’s Metamorphoses is a natural descendent of his monumental Makrokosmos I & II piano cycle of the early 1970s. With a nod to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, each movement of the Metamorphoses is inspired by a famous painting. And, like the Makrokosmos, it requires the pianist to be a virtuoso not only at the keyboard but playing inside the piano and vocalizing as well. Ms. Tan is regarded as the “Diva of the Toy Piano,” and Crumb has also incorporated the toy piano and toy percussion instruments into some movements.
Crumb says: “I have always been most fortunate to have had outstanding pianists who were willing to tackle the formidable technical and musical innovations in my scores. And among the very finest of these is Margaret Leng Tan for whom I wrote Metamorphoses (Book l). Margaret’s technical prowess and superb artistic sensitivity is a combination that must warm the heart of any composer!”
The CD also includes the early Five Pieces for Piano. All the components of Crumb’s mature compositional language are already evident: a broad palette of coloristic effects along with an extraordinarily sensitive command of nuance, his unmistakable musical gestures, an inherent sense of drama coupled with a magical suspenseful atmosphere and a battery of interior piano effects demanding that the pianist be somewhat of a harpist and percussionist as well. This newly remastered recording is taken from Ms. Tan’s Sonic Encounters recital on Mode (mode 15, from 1988).
Now if I ask you to think of a composer turning paintings into music, most of us would start with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. That’s part of the inspiration behind American composer George Crumb’s new set of Metamorphoses for his pianist friend, Margaret Leng Tan. Ten favorite paintings, from Paul Klee’s Black Prince to Kandinsky’s The Blue Rider. Remarkable performances these, recorded live at the German premiere in Donaueschingen combining amplified piano, the pianist’s voice, effects from inside the instrument, toy piano, and a small range of percussion.
This is George Crumb’s view of Salvador Dali’s painting, The Persistence of Memory, those melting watches in an empty landscape. He marks it “shadowy, dreamy” and quotes three of his own persistent musical memories: the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata opus 110 and the hymn tune, Amazing Grace.
The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali’s melting time pieces inspiring George Crumb in his new book of Metamorphoses; the pianist Margaret Leng Tan, whose command of amplified and toy pianos and the kinds of advanced techniques she learned from her mentor John Cage’s music is often astonishing. This is a concert performance, captured in startlingly vivid sound. She’s had to learn to caw like the crows in Crumb’s backyard so that she can add them to his musical transformation of van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows, suffused with a sense of death, says Crumb. It’s such a contrast to the Jewish folkstyle he finds in Marc Chagall’s The Fiddler, which follows it.
It’s Crumb’s first major set of piano pieces since Makrokosmos back in the 1970s. If you haven’t heard Margaret Leng Tan’s recording of those then seek them out. Metamorphoses, Book I, Ten Fantasy-Pieces after celebrated paintings is new on the Mode label. It has van Gogh’s Wheatfield on the cover, black and white illustrations of the others inside.
George Crumb’s “Metamorphoses, Book 1,” a striking new work from a composer who, at 87, shows no sign of slowing down.
But these weren’t mere clever tone-paintings — “Metamorphoses” felt intensely probing and often incantatory, as if conjuring up whole new worlds from the dark, elusive depths of the paintings. Tan played through them as if the fate of the world depended on it and navigated the battery of instruments with extraordinary focus — winning a sustained standing ovation for herself and for the composer.
Also with George Crumb on Mode Records:
Also with Margaret Leng Tan on Mode Records:
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