Rurh Piano Festival = GLASS: 4 Movements; Etudes; The Hours – Maki Namekawa & Dennis Russell Davies, pianos – Orange Mt.

by | Feb 21, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

Rurh Piano Festival = PHILIP GLASS: 4 Movements for Two Pianos; Etudes for Piano; The Hours – Maki Namekawa & Dennis Russell Davies, pianos – Orange Mt. Music 0060, 71:34 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
One of the things that makes Glass’s music tolerable—and this is hardly true for everyone, but I find it so—is the use of orchestration to highlight specific colors in his music. So often, particularly in music of a repetitive nature, which Glass’s certainly can be much of the time, interest must be maintained in other ways, and Glass knows how to vary his instrumentation to make salient music points. So what of the ideas on this disc? Two come to mind, one for each of the piano works here. Can two pianos provide enough color in the music to keep it from blatant monotony?
The answer is most assuredly “no”. You could add twenty pianos to the mix and get little more than volume—it would take some George Crumb-like manipulation to get enough variety in timbre to make the music of Glass more interesting. So what does he do here? Simply gives us more complex and intriguing harmonic schemes that constantly keep us off-balance and decidedly un-Glassian in our expectations.
The Four Movements for Two Pianos is a late work (2008) that uses these off-putting harmonic tricks to deceive our ears into not paying as much attention to the sameness of piano timbre, and is mostly effective, though 26 minutes is bordering on the longish side. The Six Etudes are even longer and require a more focused sharpness of sound, and this is a form that one would not easily associate with Glass. They are intense little miniatures that won’t satisfy the way Chopin does—or even Ligeti—but taken in their own worlds can be very expressive and interesting.
Anyone who saw The Hours with Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep may or may not know the score won a BAFTA and received an Academy Award nomination. The piano plays in integral part of that music, and is important to the plot line as well by appearing all through the film as a unifying force. Michael Riesman made this piano-only arrangement (the original score has piano, strings, harp, and celeste) for solo piano, and it works very well as the music is quite lovely.
Glassians will have to have this; I am not as convinced of its mandatory status though it is interesting to hear this composer shorn of all external effect. In this case the music becomes boldly and barely the thing. Performances are excellent.
—Steven Ritter

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