Nicholas Horvath – Glass Essentials – An 80th Anniversary Tribute – Grand Piano GP752LP (distr. by Naxos) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 45:19 ****:

Gifted pianist pays tribute to Phillip Glass solo piano repertoire. 

Pianist Nicholas Horvath is renowned for his interpretation of Franz Liszt’s music. He has been recognized for many awards, including First Prize of the Scriabin and the Luigi Nono International Competitions. Horvath has become an aficionado of composer Phillip Glass. While broadly recognized for his film scores (The Hours, The Truman Show, Koyaanisqatsi, Kundun, The Thin Blue Line and Notes On A Scandal among many), Glass has made a significant contribution to piano composition. Horvath has released five albums (Glassworlds 1-5) on the Grand Piano label of Glass’ piano works, transcriptions and movie scores.

The latest Horvath album is titled, Glass EssentialsAn 80th Anniversary Tribute. As noted by Horvath, this is a celebration of solo piano repertoire. The opening track on Side A is “Etudes, Book 1-Etude No. 6”. Etudes ( which emerged in the early 19th century, coinciding with the growing popularity of the piano) are concise, didactic pieces of music that are characterized by specific technical skills and unusual difficulty. Etude No. 6 also known as  “Now So Long After That Time” has muscular crescendos and an emotional resonance. Then from Glass’ brilliant score The Hours, “Morning” has a lyrical melody line with an ominous bass line that transforms this reverie. Next up is Metamorphosis II ( the 2nd of a quintet) of piano transcriptions Glass composed for film and stage. This piece (from Errol Morris’ stunning 1999 documentary, The Thin Blue Line) starts with delicate, nuanced movement that expands in intensity. It is impressive how musical themes can aptly contextualize film narrative, especially in a no-frills documentary like this. “Secret Solo” (a 1977 collaboration for American poet John Giorno) is a unabating, hard-driving performance (very brief) that carries a certain hypnotic quality.

In 2007, Paul Simon became the first recipient of the Gershwin Prize For Popular Song. An indelible highlight was a live performance of “The Sounds Of Silence” by Glass. (apparently the only transcription of another composer’s work). Earlier Glass had contributed a strings/clarinet/flute coda to Simon’s 1983 song “The Late Great Johnny Ace”. Horvath’s dramatic rendition adopts the ethereal solemnity of the melody for a verse. then amplifies (as described by Horvath as broken chords in a polyrhythm of 2/3) the arrangement. This explosive transition elevates a song that is already great. It was memorable in 2007, and remains that way.

Side B features three Book 2 etudes. Each is divergent in scope and execution. Glass composed these from 2000-2013, and has acknowledged that this collection is not entirely defined by technique. “Etude 16” exudes warmth and feels aspirational. “Etude 18” is strong in percussive energy, but still allows for some moodiness and lighter touches. “Etude 20” is contemplative with a restrained flow, but still has attitude. On a wildly different note is “Music In Fifths”, Glass’ 1969 nod to Nadia Boulanger. The “pulse patterns” are relentless and highly structured. “Choosing Life” (also from The Hours) is an appropriate finale. The meditative, spiritual exploration (with traces of ominous shading) glows with wistful imagery.

Glass Essentials – An 80th Anniversary Tribute is a fitting tribute to a musical icon. The music is complex, accessible and performed with technical mastery. The audiophile vinyl sound mix is excellent. The mic placement in the piano is effective. Everything is clear and there are no volume rumbles from the strings. The hi-gloss gatefold is top-notch, and the liner notes are revelatory.   

Side A:
Etudes, Book 1: Etude No. 6; Morning Passages from The Hours; Metamorphosis II; A Secret Solo; Sound Of Silence

Side B: Etudes, Book 2: Etude No. 16; Etudes, Book 2: Etude No. 18; Etudes Book 2: Etude No. 20; Music In Fifths; Choosing Life From The Hours

—Robbie Gerson