BARBER String Quartet; REICH Different Trains; CRUMB Black Angels
This is an eccentric collection of strange bedfellows. With plenty of recordings of all three composers available, wouldn’t fans of any one of them surely prefer a single-composer CD? The oldest music is the Barber, which gets regular performances, but its reputation has been submerged by the string-orchestra version of its slow movement – the famous Adagio. After that, the quartet version feels anaemic, especially in the slightly harsh recorded sound here.
That doesn’t matter in what is chronologically the next piece – Crumb’s Black Angels, written in 1970 during the Vietnam War and establishing Crumb as a new voice to be reckoned with. Quite right too, with the work’s fertile exploration of new sounds and symbolic use of quotation including Schubert and the Dies irae. Unfortunately the layout of the sections given in the score is not provided in the booklet – Vol 7 of the George Crumb Edition on Bridge handles matters far better, although the Diotima’s performance is a strong one.
Steve Reich is also making a grim humanitarian gesture in Different Trains, where he portrays the trains he took as a child from coast to coast between his divorced parents and those transporting Jewish children in Europe to the gas chambers. There are masses of recorded train whistles in a typically relentless texture and the superimposed voices hark back to Reich’s earliest tape-loop pieces such as Come Out. There’s a fuller orchestral version of Different Trains which – as for Barber’s hit – is more sumptuous.