new music guy | NY, NY United States | 10/22/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There is truly great music being performed on this DVD - both works, especially the Crumb, are landmark pieces of the 20th century string quartet repertoire and are given relatively admirable performances here by Kronos. In addition, the visual aspect of Kronos' performance surprised me by being quite striking and interesting, and not nearly as cheesy as I had previously suspected it might be.So why only 3 stars?Unfortunately, the visual aspect of the performance and the musical performance itself were quite clearly taped separately, and the overdubbing is simply awful. On multiple occasions you can see the bows and fingers moving either before or after the sound has started. String players and many other musicians watching the performance will note the many occasions that you can hear an audible shift and see a string crossing, or vice versa. It is not consistently imprecise - but it happens far too often for ayone who has played this music (or plays an instrument at all) to be truly satisfied watching it. The visual faking is not as bad as, for instance, Brent Spiner as Data pretending to be a violinist on Star Trek, but the comparison would not be entirely unreasonable.Finally, a few quibbles about the aural performance itself:
1) Crumb wants pure amplification. Kronos adds distortion, which certainly makes those insects sound more electric, but that's not necessarily what the composer wanted (and Crumb is a pretty smart guy).
2) Kronos didn't pay attention to Crumb's request on tam-tam size.
3) The thimbles in the 13th section produce far too much tapping noise, and largely obscure the Sarabande that should be produced by the left hand.
4) Instead of bowing behind the fingers on the Pavane and the Sarabande, they stick on practice mutes. I know Crumb approved the process for the Concord Quartet back when the piece was first recorded, but it's still cheating, and the effects are not identical. Real quartets still have to suffer through the ordeal of learning how to do that, and Kronos should as well.
5) A friend tells me that the Hungarian being spoken is being terribly mispronounced. I can't back that up, but I'll take his word for it."
Robert G. VanStryland | Denton, TX USA | 08/20/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It was in the early 1970's when I first heard a recording of George Crumb's "Black Angels" and was knocked out by it. So I was really excited when George Crumb visited the University where I was studying at the time and spent an afternoon talking about this piece. (Despite what is stated on the DVD case, he never mentioned the Viet Nam war, nor can I recall any explicit references to that war or any other war in the piece itself.) Like most of Crumb's works, this music employs unconventional but beautiful and innovative means of sound production. The instruments are electronically amplified (although I scanned the video in vain for electronic pickups on the fiddles). At one point the players strike the strings with thimbles on their fingers (I recall that the composer cited this passage as being especially difficult). In another section, they bow the rims of water glasses, making sounds even more beautiful than those of a glass harmonica. They also perform on gongs, both bowing and striking them, and make vocal sounds. The composer made use of quoted materials (there is an extended passage from Schubert's "Death and the Maiden"). There is also a lot of numerology in the organization of the piece (having to do with the numbers seven and thirteen). I think that "Black Angels" is one of Crumb's best pieces, both for the sounds themselves and for the (unusually for him) tight structure.Tan Dun's 1995 "Ghost Opera" (which is NOT an opera) also employs unconventional means of tone production. Sounds of dripping water are employed, and gongs are bowed and then dipped in water. A fifth performer sings a little and plays a lute-like instrument that I presume is Chinese. All the performers vocalize extensively. It sounds very beautiful, but the piece has less contrast and excitement than Crumb's and rambles a bit.The Kronos Quartet specializes in recently composed music and performs these works masterfully. Unless you are one of those people who can't stand any music that is less than one hundred years old, I think you'll be glad you heard these pieces."