CRUMB, GERVASONI, HAAS: Magical Worlds of Sound

Makrokomos Quartet
hat [now] Art 170

Performance: ****

Sound: *****

Based on duality and cultural cooperation, this first-class recital features two Turkish pianists and two Swiss percussionists thrashing their way through three extended rhythmic studies by an Austrian, an American and an Italian composer.

Commissioned for pianists Ufuk Dördüncü and Bahar Dördüncü plus percussionists François Volpé and Sébastien Cordier is Stefano Gervosoni’s composition “Sviete Tihi”. It and George Fredrich Haas’ tripartite “…schatten…durch unausdenkliche wälder” are first recordings. Only George Crumb’s five-part “Music for a Summer Evening” is not a premiere.

Redolent of poetic texts, each work concerns itself with mythical synthesis, in a darker (Haas) or more playful (Gervasoni) fashion. None lets the program overwhelm the music however, since the four’s instrumental versatility is given a workout, especially the percussive timbres of the dual pianos, plus the steamer trunk full of percussion used by the other duo.

“Sviete Tihi”, for instance, creates an ambiguity of sounds by emphasizing the similarities between wood block thumps from the drummers with similar tones created when internal piano strings are stopped and plucked. With its layers of oscillations and varied pitches, the andante theme of “…scahttern…” plays up the resemblance between resonating kettle drum-like smacks and low-frequency piano chords, after initially exposing meditative harpsichord-like runs. As thematic variations expand, lyrical passages are heard along with xylophone scrapes. Finally, the exposition is reprised within a coda of wood block pops and keyboard slaps.

The quartet confirms its mettle with the Crumb piece. Preliminary variations call on nearly every percussion instrument extant, with log drums, bells and rattles responding fortissimo to dancing piano chords, extended soundboard rumbles and guitar-like string stroking. As the variations expand and harmonize, the musicians also shrill high-pitched recorders, whistle and scream, vocally portraying the emptiness of infinite space.

Slyly inserting a snatch of a Bach fugue, Crumb’s final section contrasts that lyrical invention with irregularly pulsed percussion from temple and wood blocks. With a different percussive instrument seemingly exposed in every subsequent bar line, the bravura performance finally resolves with straightforward piano chording.

— KEN WAXMAN

—For OPUS Volume 31 No. 2