The Essential PHILIP GLASS – Philip Glass/The Philip Glass Ens. /Michael Riesman/ various collaborators – Sony Classical (3 CDs)

by | Mar 7, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

The Essential PHILIP GLASS = [TrackList follows] – Philip Glass/The Philip Glass Ensemble/Michael Riesman/Kronos Quartet/The Roches/Atlanta Sym. & Chorus/Robert Shaw/NYC Opera Orch. & Chorus/ Christopher Keene/Stuttgart State Opera Orch. & Chorus/Dennis Russell Davies/others – Sony Classical 8691917202 (3 CDs), 64:50, 70:13, 53:44 ****:
First, there has been a earlier Sony Classical single CD with this same title, so don’t be confused. These recordings have all been previously released and were originally recorded from 1978 thru 2002.  There are no notes as such – only a detailed listing of the 9 to 12 separate selections on each of the three discs.  It seems to me that at least one page introducing the set and the reasoning behind calling it essential would have been a good idea.
Glass is certainly one of the most familiar living American composers to listeners today and the poster-boy for the compositional technique called minimalism. His more recent works have lately become less minimalist, like those of John Adams, and he in fact now describes himself as composing “music with repetitive structures.” (Years ago I successfully returned an early Glass LP to my local record shop—where the clerk was quite knowledgable about contemporary music—claiming the record stuck, when I knew it didn’t.) Listeners seem to either love or hate his music; there are few in between. Glass’s operas and new soundtracks for films of Jean Cocteau have gained much attention, and three of his film scores have been nominated for Academy Awards.
The first of the CDs has ten of these early works, both instrumental and vocal. Collaborations are strongly played up. The sets of songs have lyrics by Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, and Paul Simon. The second disc has two piano solo performances by Glass himself, two portions of his music for the Reggio film Nagoyqatsi – with Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and Songs from Liquid Days, with lyrics of Laurie Anderson sung by Linda Ronstadt. While we don’t get a deep basso excerpt from his music for the previous Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi, we are treated here to a nine-minute excerpt with bass voice from his opera Akhnaten – in various languages, including Egyptian, Arcadian and Hebrew. (plus “the language of the audience.” How do they do that on a CD?) The third of the discs is devoted to 12 excerpts of music from Glass’s trilogy of operas: Satyagraha, Akhnaten, and Einstein on the Beach. Some feature vocalists, while others employ one or two speakers over the music.
This compiled overview of Glass’s music may be more appealing and less annoying to many than sitting thru an entire single opera or longer work by the composer. The matching of the various sources is fine and overall sonics are quite good. It only offers Glass recordings from Sony’s library; that means nothing of the soundtracks, symphonies or string quartets which are on Nonesuch.  And I wish a short essay tying it all together had been provided.
TrackList:
Disc: 1 1. Songs from Liquid Days, songs (6) for voice & chamber ensemble: Lightning 2. Glassworks, pieces (6) for chamber ensemble or piano: Façades 3. The Photographer, music-theatre piece: A Gentleman’s Honor 4. Naqoyqatsi, film score: Primacy of Number 5. Metamorphosis, for piano: Metamorphosis No. 4 6. Songs from Liquid Days, songs (6) for voice & chamber ensemble: Part 2. Open The Kingdom 7. In the Upper Room, ballet for chamber ensemble: Dance No. 2 8. In the Upper Room, ballet for chamber ensemble: Dance No. 8 9. Glasspieces, ballet for chamber ensemble (from ‘Glassworks’ & ‘Akhnaten’): Glasspiece No. 1 – Rubric 10. Songs from Liquid Days, songs (6) for voice & chamber ensemble: Changing Opinion
Disc: 2 1. Glassworks, pieces (6) for chamber ensemble or piano: Opening 2. Glassworks, pieces (6) for chamber ensemble or piano: Floe 3. Akhnaten, opera: Scene 1. Funeral of Amenhotep III 4. Naqoyqatsi, film score: Point Blank 5. Wichita Vortex Sutra, for piano 6. Songs from Liquid Days, songs (6) for voice & chamber ensemble: Forgetting 7. In the Upper Room, ballet for chamber ensemble: Dance No. 9 8. Itaipu, symphonic portrait for chorus & orchestra: The Dam 9. Naqoyqatsi, film score: Definition
Disc: 3 1. Satyagraha, opera: Protest 2. Satyagraha, opera: Evening Song 3. Akhnaten, opera: Hymn To The Sun 4. Einstein on the Beach, opera: Trial – Prison 5. Akhnaten, opera: Akhnaten and Nefertiti 6. Satyagraha, opera: Kuru Field of Justice 7. Einstein on the Beach, opera: Knee Play 1 8. Satyagraha, opera: Tolstoy Farm 9. Akhnaten, opera: Window Of Appearance 10. Einstein on the Beach, opera: Bed 11. Akhnaten, opera: Epilogue 12. Einstein on the Beach, opera: Knee Play 5
—John Sunier

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