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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Light (1987) [23:43]
Symphony No. 4 Heroes Symphony (1996) [46:26]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop (conductor)
rec. The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, 16-17 May 2006.

Marin Alsop is all over the Naxos catalogue, with around 50 CD releases to her name. It might seem mildly perverse for her to be recording Philip Glass’s orchestral and symphonic repertoire with Brits when she is currently also principal conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but one of the things which struck me about this particular recording is the convincingly American sound she gets from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It might just be my imagination, and a good orchestra should be able to react like a chameleon to different repertoire anyway, but the light, bouncy touch in The Light has all of the optimistic drive one could hope for in Glass.
The Light derives its title and inspiration from the Michelson-Morley experiment which confirmed the uniform speed of light. It would also explain the choice of cover image, which, by Juan Hitters, looks to me like a very beautiful exploding toenail. The Light draws maximum material from a limited number of chords and tonal relationships, and includes a few of the percussion and harmonic fingerprints which reminded me a little of ‘Songs for Liquid Days’. The alternation of basic harmonies overstay their welcome for me at a number of points in this work, and the tambourine becomes more than a little irritating by the end, but in all it’s a nice enough romp – a kind of ‘Slightly-too-long ride on a not-too-fast machine.’
I agree with Rob Barnett in his review that the music on this disc is attractive enough, but a great deal of this can be accounted for by the sympathetic performing of the orchestra, and the pleasant resonance of the acoustic. The typical shifting harmonies of Philip Glass mesh nicely in this setting, and often renders the sometimes mundane into something more eloquent. You have to believe in this music to make it work, and Alsop has clearly convinced her musicians.
Ah, 1977. While the Heroes Symphony has its origins with David Bowie, fans of the latter may find it hard to find many direct traces of the original. Glass’ score arguably is not a symphony at all, but a series of dance pieces for choreographer Twyla Tharp. Bowie himself has said of the work that it “has characteristics that I immediately recognize, but it has its own life. It has nothing to do with me.” This is not in a negative sense, but taps into the extraction of the essence of the music as Glass heard it at the time: “It was though Philip had fed into my voice... but somehow had arrived, I feel, a lot nearer to the gut feeling of what I was trying to do.” The melancholy of the music and its themes of love separated by the Berlin Wall is certainly preserved, and in some ways enhanced by Glass. I sometimes wonder if everyone would make such a fuss if this kind of work didn’t have the Glass logo stamped on it, but if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em at bargain price!
Dominy Clements  

see also review by Rob Barnett

Naxos American Classics page 


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