George Crumb’s Dogged Pursuit of a Guitar Suite About Canines


The concept seemed charming: a suite called “Mundus Canis” (A World of Dogs) and based on personal experiences of five of the composer’s pets.

At its West Coast premiere at the Claremont Colleges Sunday night, George Crumb’s recent work, subtitled Five Humoresques for Guitar and Percussion, turned out to be charming enough. But much more than that: These are serious mood-pictures genuinely probing into the character of each animal. Cuteness has nothing to do with their success; they are personality portraits in music.

As played by guitarist David Starobin and by composer Crumb on a variety of percussion instruments, each movement delves deeply, though briefly, into the subject’s psyche, with engaging results. The audience in Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music seemed to think the work was funny and, inappropriately, howled. No big deal; still, Crumb, who can on occasion be light and accessible, is no comedian.


The other West Coast premiere on this lively program was Elliott Carter’s “Shard,” a three-minute solo piece in a group of commissions--along with works by Jorge Morel, Steve Mackey and Paul Lansky--put together by the guitarist for a recording project. “Shard” is complex, note-heavy, compressed and angst-driven--thoroughly compelling.

Starobin’s admirable and communicative total performance also included the Twelve Pieces of Fernando Sor’s Opus 31 and two virtuosic and rhapsodic etudes by Giulio Regondi. The single encore was Bryan Johanson’s “Open Up Your Ears.”