GLASS: Songs and Poems for Solo Cello – Wendy Sutter, cello/ David Cossin, percussion/ Philip Glass, piano – Orange Mountain Music 0037, 47:00 ***1/2 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Get out your earphones for Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, the eponymous piece on the new Philip Glass CD. You’ll want to be intimately close to cellist Wendy Sutter’s playing, which can be as contemplative as a spring walk through pinkly blossoming trees. Songs V and VI may be passionate and gentle, but Songs II and III are nervy affairs, occasionally harkening back to the complex invention of Bach’s famed Cello Suites. Philip Glass composed these pieces for his beloved last year and commented that he found the cello’s range similar to that of the human voice—not an original perception, but perhaps indicating the direction that he wanted the piece to take. Songs and Poems begins harshly, in a repeated figure of perseverated intensity, as if it were a voice banging the walls in frustration. It ends with a series of repeated figures of a different sort, one that conveys a cozy sense of security. Freed from playing centuries of ecclesiastic music, Sutter’s “ex Vatican Stradivarius” cello (actually an Amati) meanders into a state of visceral calm (or philosophical resignation).
The second piece, Tissues for Cello, Piano and Percussion (2002) is shorter and was written for the original soundtrack recording to Godfrey Reggio’s Naqoyqatsi: Life as War, a powerfu anti-technological documentary. (It’s visually structured like the previous Glass collaborations, Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi.) Tissue No. 1 begins with characteristic Glassian ostinatos on the cello, accompanied by eerie rumblings by percussionist David Cossin. It’s both pleasant and suggestively portentous. Tissue No. 2 is a duo for cello and marimba, edgy and nervy as if preparing for something dreadful to happen. Tissue No. 6 is a sweetly intimate adagio between the cello and piano (played by Glass), with percussion sneaking in at key moments. The melody is almost arioso, as if composed in the mid Romantic era. Tissue No. 7 is also played adagio, but features a darker (perhaps tragic?) theme that’s simple and affecting. I would have given this CD four stars, but its paltry length (43 minutes) prevented me. It made me wonder why Tissues 3, 4, and 5 were omitted. What do they sound like and what’s the likelihood we’ll ever hear them?
— Peter Bates