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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Complete String Quartets
CD 1
String Quartets: No. 3 Mishima (1985) [16:04]; No. 2 Company (1983) [8:34]; No. 4 Buczak (1989) [22:52]
CD 2
String Quartets: No. 1 (1966) [16:16]; No. 5 (1991) [24:24]
The Smith Quartet
rec. St Paul's Church, Deptford, UK, 26-28 July 2007. DDD
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD117 [47:49 + 40:50]
Experience Classicsonline

The success of Philip Glass outstripped the first flush of celebrity in the 1980s and 1990s. This logical set serves further to consolidate his reputation in a world in which no single style has monopoly or ascendancy.
The Third Quartet owes its existence to a commission for the music for Paul Schrader's film of the life of Yukio Mishima. Mishima’s samurai life and death by seppuku made him almost as much of an iconic figure in the 1960s as Che Guevara. The music moves between a lulling iterative murmur (II) and a sense of rise and uplift (IV). The finale (V) is almost Schubertian or may remind you of a fragment from Smetana’s bustling Aus Meinem Leben. I have heard Company in two other different orchestral version recordings recently: the Naxos Glass set and the EMI ‘American Classics’ disc. The first and third movements are suggestive of a melancholic slowed fanfare. The third is chaffingly Sibelian. The finale is shot through with urgently propulsive power; angst and exhilaration meet and mediate. The early death of the artist Brian Buczak from HIV/AIDS was the spur for the Fourth Quartet. It is one of the longer quartets and has only three movements. It's a work of more complexity than its mates on CD1. There is a great tenderness here and the slow-rocking and piercing poignancy of the second movement is memorable. In the finale it is as if the lock-gates have been raised to release a surge of Schubertian melody.
The First Quartet is from the mid-1960s; pretty early for Glass. It dates from shortly after he had completed his not entirely comfortable studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Pierre Boulez. The work has some of his trademark iterative cell-patterning but the world he creates is more involved, varied, troubled and dissonant. The Fifth Quartet - so far his last - is contemporary romantic. Its second movement is launched with a typical sombre ostinato but other figures of passionate and sanguine weight are interleaved. Passion too drives the third movement which is thrillingly empowered. The fourth carries reminiscences, in Schubertian cotton wool, of those unhurried fanfares of Company. In a flighty finale high-pitched bustle and wonderfully inventive optimistic writing lead to a triumphantly winged episode. There's just a hint of Tippett at full throttle in this music which at the close moves into tender reflection.
As with the other performances you feel that the Smith Quartet have lived and breathed this music.
The set is well presented and the whole effect is very pleasing prompting curiosity about the other Signum/Smith collaborations - Different Trains (Reich) SIGCD 064 and Ghost Stories SIGCD 088.
Rob Barnett


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