PHILIP GLASS: Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass – Brooklyn Rider – Orange Mountain Music (2 CDs)

by | Aug 3, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PHILIP GLASS:  Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass – Brooklyn Rider – Orange Mountain Music 0074 (2 CDs) About two hours [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***½:

Even if you’re not that keen on Philip Glass – too repetitive, too soporific, sparse variety, thin development –  by all means give this disc a listen. It contains all his string quartet work to date (except the early unnumbered pieces). While you can find examples of the above objections in these two CDs, you can also discover a lot more. First, you can get an appreciation of how he writes film music. This disc includes a premier performance from the film score of Bent, which is lyrical, sometimes moving, and occasionally perky. While he’s been crowned of “the king of minimalism,” (with Steve Reich the prince and John Adams the duke – no women oddly enough), he is not always undramatic or predictable. This piece may contain ample doses of phase and pattern music, including myriad repetitions. Yet the brief elegiac final movement is totally uncharacteristic and once, even poignant.  [Reich should easily be the King, not Glass – especially with recent Glass works…Ed.]

Glass also wrote the film music for Paul Schrader’s Mishima, then retooled it into his String Quartet No. 3. In this work the composer rarely carries explicit themes from movement to movement, but he does forge similar musical patterns throughout, maintaining an impression of unity. Rhythms and tempos do vary between movements, although not as much as some listeners would prefer.
His String Quartet No 4, composed in remembrance of the artist Brian Buczak, is a worthy sally into lyricism. Parts of it even have a 19th century feel, particularly the near sonata form of II, with its repeats and recapitulations. The lyricism is memorable in the same way as Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).  It is instant style: no one would ever confuse it with another composer’s work.

The dissonances of his String Quartet No. 1 and its ornery lack of direction remind me of Morton Feldman’s string quartet (No. 1 or No. 2). It’s a nice piece if you’re interested in tracing the evolution of Glass’ style.  I find it more humorous than artistically fulfilling, but I suppose that’s needed too. It’s particularly fascinating to compare it to the next quartet in line, composed twenty years later. String Quartet No. 2 begins in a more restrained mood, then oozes into Glass’s characteristic exuberant throbbing dynamic shifts, Doppler-like in their regularity. The final movement sounds like it’s trying to sustain a delicate pianissimo throughout, like Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15, but can’t quite manage it. Glass’s String Quartet No. 5 is longer and more complex than its predecessors, probably because it contains several more musical ideas. Glass is playing with more tools in his box, like sotto voce endings, subtle driftings between keys (but not too many), and ear-tickling demisemiquavers when you almost don’t expect them. Perhaps as a hidden bonus, Glass includes an energetic ending with uncharacteristic thematic effects to confound  the critics and cynics.
Try it, you may find surprises within.

TrackList:

Disc: 1
Suite from Bent for String Quartet – 1997
9. String Quartet No.3 Mishima
String Quartet No.1
Disc: 2
String Quartet No.4 Buczak
String Quartet No.2
String Quartet No.5 Movement I
Movement II
Movement III

 — Peter Bates