This disc is the first in a series of ten volumes
that will cover the theatre music of Philip Glass, published
by his label Orange Mountain Music.
While the general public is familiar with Glass’s
work in opera and film soundtracks, he has had a prolific career
writing incidental music for the theatre. In some cases the
music comprises interludes, and in others more complex works.
This disc features two such works, one from an opera and another
from a play.
The first work, a twenty-minute suite extracted
from the opera The Sound of a Voice, is an eastern-influenced
work, featuring a pipa, which gives it a Japanese colour. It
is a very un-Glassian work, and if I had heard it on the radio,
I wouldn’t immediately have thought of Philip Glass. While some
of his signature repetitions appear in the work, its tone and
structure are very different from most of his music. With a
combination of eastern and western melodies, this work intrigues.
However, this music is, apparently, a rearrangement of material
from an opera; it would be interested to hear the work in its
entirety. Nevertheless, the suite stands on its own, and is
very interesting. The recording, though, leaves a bit to be
desired. It may not have been recorded with the intention of
releasing it on disc. The music sounds a bit muted and distant,
and occasional coughing from the audience can be disturbing.
The second work is a series of short pieces that
were composed to accompany a production of a Paul Bowles’ play
In the Summer House, first presented in 1993 at the Lincoln
Center Theater in New York. With minimal instrumentation - violin
and cello only - these short pieces, most one to two minutes
long, feature a style much more familiar to Glass aficionados.
Recalling Glass’s string quartet version of his Dracula score,
the interplay of the two instruments ebbs and flows through
lyrical and repetitive sections, yet sounds more like tafelmusik
than Sound of a Voice, which tends to stand on its own
taken out of context. These works are interesting as a selection
of studies for two instruments, since none of them goes far
enough with its melodic structure to be more than a musical
interlude. Yet there are fine sections, with some haunting melodies,
and the final section, "When I Was A Little Girl....",
at over six minutes, is a plaintive summary of the entire collection.
While this disc won’t attract the casual listener,
fans of Philip Glass will want to pick it up if only for a varied
style of music that is almost unfamiliar. I can only hope that
subsequent volumes in this series offer works that are as varied
and interesting as this. While not essential Glass, this disc
shows another facet of the composer’s work.