Concert Review: Crumb Kaleidoscope – Fismer Hall, Woordfees

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Dieter Weberpals (dizi), Caroline Oltmanns & James Wilding (piano), Magdalena de Vries & Frank Mallows (percussion)
Fismer Hall, Endler Concert Series, Woordfees Sunday 15 March 2015

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Crumb Kaleidoscope is a concept show about George Crumb featuring the pianists Caroline Oltmanns and James Wilding, with works by Bach, Chopin, Crumb, Herman Hupfield, James Wilding and others. The show was commissioned by the Bavarian Rundfunk Nürnberg, performed and broadcast in Germany in 2014. Hupfield’s 1931 classic As Time Goes By is an idée fixe, threading the eclectic program together like a transformational catalyst, often bridging two pieces together. The concept of the show is an exploration of time and timelessness, that juxtaposes ancient and modern sounds.

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Weberpals’ dizi, a Chinese flute, opens with a melody in free rhythm, a breathy, ethereal, decidedly ancient sound invoking the mists of time. The melody transforms into a two-piano arrangement of Hupfield’s As Time Goes By, and then merges back into the archaic mist. The dizi is an aloof, speechless master of ceremonies, observing and seldom becoming involved, yet remaining part of the mechanics of time that introduces the pieces by hinting at the melody in a charming, ancient, breathy kind of way.

I enjoyed the unusual arrangement of Bach’s Jesus bleibet meine Freunde, for piano and tubular bells, for that clerical flavour! Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu was exquisitely performed by Oltmans, demonstrating amazing finger control and exceptional pedal technique.

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The Crumb works were spectacular, often requiring the pianists to reach into the instrument and pluck or strum the strings, which in itself accomplishes the ancient / modern juxtaposition – producing an ancient sound resembling a zither or lyre, from a modern instrument. Rich percussion amplifies the wonder of Crumb’s work, and we were extremely fortunate to experience the duo of Magdalena de Vries and Frank Mallows, literally in their element – surrounded by every kind of resonant substance. Exotic additions from China and Africa extended their sound into the depths of time, and all of this looked fantastic, but when it comes to technique this duo is truly amazing. There were times were it sounded like four percussionists! They are extremely accurate and have a good sense of what the other is doing.

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Throughout the show I often found myself musing about the concept – it ties so many disparate works together in a way that makes for a thoroughly entertaining musical journey. That journey comes to a climax in The Space Between Love and Death (J. Wilding).

This work encompasses ancient 1000 year old African and Chinese sounds, fused with classical 100 year old piano technique, woven together with a modern 60 year old song. The work feels like the centre of the maze. Composed for all the many instruments on the stage, it features a masterful use of the two-piano dialogue, in which each piano sounds surprisingly distinct. It could have been the wide stereo effect of positioning the pianos at opposite ends of the stage, but certainly these two pianists each have an individual sound. This work is also an impressive and challenging showcase for the percussionists, who both have their hands full, as well as flautist Weberpals, who finds the way back to As Time Goes By and is joined by tubular bells chiming seconds ticking past – a genius little detail in orchestration! Gathering speed again, the idée fixe receives a climactic Russian late romantic treatment that rushes into a shining glimmering riveting coda! What a piece!

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The concept show Crumb Kaleidoscope features an old recording of "As Time Goes By" played on a gramophone

A wind-up gramophone performs “As Time Goes By”

Like an honoured guest invited onto the stage (for old times sake) a wind-up gramophone performs Rudi Vallee’s 1931 recording of As Time Goes By from an original shellac record. This is first time we hear the full version of the idée fixe, but it’s function is deeper than a mere statement – the crackling sound of the record triggers two following imitations:
1. A variation on the dizi technique involving a vibrating piece of rice paper glued to the mouthpiece, using (the traditional) garlic juice! The result is an over-driven, harder sound that mimics the distortion on the record
2. Crumb’s Morning Music, a work that prepares the piano with sheets of paper on the strings, that crackle when those notes are played, again imitating the sound of the record.

If I had to pick highlights from each half, the first half would be The Space Between Love and Death, and the second half would be Crumb’s magnificent Twin Suns, in 15 beats. A demanding monster, it has all hands inside both pianos, and treacherous percussion entries, but last Sunday’s performance was spectacular. Crumb demands a lot with a time signature of 15/8. He also expects pianists to master avant guard piano techniques like holding down a chord without the hammers striking and strumming it inside the piano, or isolating notes from a sustained chord and then releasing the pedal to leave the chord sounding. Part of the preparation also involves marking certain strings that need to be plucked.

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Crumb Kaleidoscope is a deeply conceptual yet highly accessible show that makes sense on many levels. Having seen it only this one time I feel that it contains far too many juicy layers to get it all the first time, and I hope to see it at least another few times to get to know it better!

PROGRAM

PART I

1. The Timelessness of Time J. Wilding (b. 1973) after
G. Crumb (b. 1929)

2. Play it Once, Sam, for Old Time’s Sake H. Hupfeld (1894-1951)
arr. J. Wilding

3. Passage J. Wilding

4. Jesus bleibet meine Freude J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
arr. M. Hess (1890-
1965) and J. Wilding

5. Passage J. Wilding

6. Fantaisie Impromptu F. Chopin (1810-1849)

PART II

7. A Call from Afar J. Wilding after Hou Yu-
tzung (1910-1992)
and G. Crumb

8. Zai na yaoyuan de difang (In That Remote Place) W. Luobin (1913-1996)
arr. J. Wilding

9. Ghost-Nocturne for the Druids of Stonehenge G. Crumb

10. Bronze Dragons J. Wilding after G. Crumb

11. Berceuse G. Faure (1845-1924)

12. Passage J. Wilding

13. Übungstück No. 9 F. Gulda (1930-2000)
arr. J. Wilding

PART III

14. The Space Between Love and Death J. Wilding

Intermission

PART IV

15. As Time Goes By H. Hupfeld

16. Morning Music G. Crumb

17. Passage J. Wilding

18. Hungarian Dance in G minor, Bk. 1, No. 1 J. Brahms (1833-1897)

19. Passage J. Wilding

20. Twin Suns G. Crumb

PART V

21. Moon Setting J. Wilding after G. Crumb

22. Je Te Veux E. Satie (1866-1925)

23. Beta Cygni G. Crumb

PART VI

24. Dream Images G. Crumb

25. The Advent G. Crumb

26. Play it Again, Sam J. Wilding after H. Hupfeld
and G. Crumb

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