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PHILIP GLASS: The Hours; Metamorphosis; Mad Rush [TrackList follows] – Valentina Lisitsa, piano – Decca (2 CDs)
PHILIP GLASS: “Mad Rush” [TrackList follows] – Jeron van Veen, piano – Brilliant Classics (2 vinyls)

PHILIP GLASS: The Hours; Metamorphosis; Mad Rush – Valentina Lisitsa, piano – Decca 478 8079 (2 CDs) 150:59 [3/10/15] ****:

PHILIP GLASS: “Mad Rush” – Jeron van Veen, piano – Brilliant Classics (2 vinyls) 90003 [2010/2014] (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

Phillip Glass, who started out as a NYC taxi driver and furniture mover, now enjoys a position as one of the most important classical composers in America. Not all the pieces on the Lisitsa album were originally composed for the solo piano. His scores for films such as The Hours, Mishima and The Truman Show, could be stand alone symphonic works apart from the films. Glass himself played his Mad Rush music at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012. It had originally been created for a visit by the Dalai Lama at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1981, and needed to be “of indeterminate length,” since the Dali Lama’s arrival time was uncertain.

Some of the pieces show the pronounced minimalist tendencies of the composer, while others open up with a greater variety of compositional styles, as have occurred with some other minimalist composers such as John Adams. The 30-minute-long How Now was one of the first works Glass wrote for his ensemble back in 1968. Metamorphosis is a five-movement version of incidental music for a production of the play by Kafka. The second CD closes with some of the soundtrack music for the 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. There is little difficulty in immediately identifying a Philip Glass work – it is easy for anyone to understand – but he has certainly used minimalism’s building blocks to create fine soundscapes of contrast and great musical richness.

I have written in an earlier review about my surprise at the series of solo piano albums coming out recently on vinyl, considering that compact discs have a more secure pacing and freedom from any speed variation due to their digital clock tracks, which can be especially important when it comes to piano music. There is less of that comparison to be made in this case between Lisitsa’s CDs and van Veen’s two audiophile vinyls. However, the skilled piano performances of Lisitsa definitely put her versions of these works to the fore in making a comparison. Never mind her online comments derogatory of the Ukranians (and pro-Putin) which just got her fired from a New York Philharmonic concert appearance. Her careful phrasing and dynamics, applied as though these were works by Schumann or one of the other composers of that period, moves them into a place of truly effective music – unlike some of the more mechanical performances by other pianists – including even Glass himself.

TrackList: 

1-1 Opening – Glassworks 6:08
1-2 Truman Sleeps (short version) – The Truman Show 2:40
1-3 The Poet Acts – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 4:01
1-4 Morning Passages – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 6:09
1-5 How Now 29:52
1-6 Something She Has To Do – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 3:59
1-7 I’m Going To Make A Cake – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 3:20
1-8 Lighting Of The Torch – The Olympian 3:31
1-9 Mad Rush 16:17
2-1 Dead Things – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 4:41
2-2 Tearing Herself Away – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 5:14 2-3 Wichita Vortex Sutra 7:22
2-4 Escape – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 4:34
2-5 Choosing Life – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 4:42
2-6 The Hours – The Hours, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 7:46
2-7 Metamorphosis I  7:40
2-8 Metamorphosis II 8:25
2-9 Metamorphosis III 5:39
2-10 Metamorphosis IV 8:28
2-11 Metamorphosis V 6:45
2-12 Closing – Mishima, Arranged By – Michael Riesman 3:37

[audaud-hr]

Dutch pianist Jeroen van Benn is a minimalist composer himself and has recorded over 100 CDs, often specializing in the performance of minimalist works for the piano.  He says the works in this album are an excellent example of minimalist music style in their use of repeated musical elements based on the tonal classical system.  He says Glass uses the whole keyboard to portray contrasts with minimal notes. And also that listeners either love or hate Glass’ music – there are no in-betweens. In the Mad Rush music – after which the entire album is named – and which constitutes the final quarter-hour of the fourth side – van Veen hears that Glass strongly loves the music of Schubert. His performances are excellent and not a bit mechanical, but somehow they just don’t match the abilities of Lisitsa to make these pieces sound like legitimate piano music.

Fidelity is also excellent, with not a bit of clicks or pops audible thru the four sides of vinyl, and plenty of low end power.

TrackList:

A1 Metamorphosis I 7:03
A2 Metamorphosis II 6:54
A3 Metamorphosis III 4:22
B1 Metamorphosis IV 5:53
B2 Metamorphosis V 6:07
B3 Wichita Vortex Sutra 7:25
C1 Glassworks – Opening 6:10
C2 The Hours (From The Hours) 7:13
C3 Morning Passages (From The Hours) 5:25
D1 Olympian 3:58
D2 Mad Rush 15:12

—John Sunier

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