The general view of the music of Philip Glass is that
you either love it or hate it and this statement has become used so
often that it has become a cliché. Irrespective of the above
however one must certainly respect him as, at the time of these compositions,
he was undoubtedly America’s most successful living composer. A mantle
I believe now held by Glass’s contemporary John Adams. In fact, Glass
has been commercial and profitable for many years and it is over eleven
years ago that his album ‘Songs from Liquid Days’ sold over 250,000
copies. "Film, theatre and ballet music has a larger public so
I sell better than other composers ", states Glass, with a rather
matter of fact pride.
Glass has certainly come a long way from his yellow-taxi
driving days in New York City just prior to obtaining his life-changing
commission to compose the opera ‘Satyagraha’. Record sellers, music
critics and marketeers have all attempted to label Glass’s work using
terms such as ‘crossover’, ‘fusion’, ‘rock/pop’ and ‘new age’. Not surprisingly
it is the label ‘minimalist’ that that has stuck perennially to describe
Glass’s music. In 1991 I recall Glass dismissing this label given to
his early reductive, repetitive music as a, "kind of joke, an historical
document which had its heyday in the late 1960s and caught on with the
critics 15 years later." Glass never did call his music minimalist,
saying that it was a term used by the marketing men to decide which
shelves would best shift the product.
Decca present here a CD entitled ‘The world of Philip
Glass’. It serves as a fine introduction, providing the listener with
a very reasonable cross-section of that uniquely personal soundworld
that has given him his fame and fortune.
Noted more for his chamber works than for orchestral
composition, three of the tracks see Glass paying homage at the shrines
of David Bowie and his sometimes collaborator Brain Eno. ‘Subterraneans’
is based on their 1977 album ‘Low’ and ‘Abdulmajid’ and ‘V2 Schneider’
from their later ‘Heroes’ album. In these adaptations of the Bowie and
Eno albums we see Glass successfully create and combine symphonic adaptations
from rock/pop. The themes are not used directly with Glass generating
his own variations from the material whilst still enabling the originals
to be recognised.
Another Glass collaboration with Jean Genet and African
musician Foday Musa Suso provides the inspiration for the music from
‘The Screens’, four movements of which are contained on the disc. These
works show the varied and imaginative side of Glass, using a range of
instrumental forces from a rhythmic solo keyboard on ‘Night On The Balcony’
and a Ronnie Lane of ‘The Faces’-style barn dance played on acoustic
guitar in ‘Said’s Treason’.
The third movement finale is provided from Glass’s
successful and much recorded Violin Concerto from 1987. The concerto
uses the violin often as an integral part of the orchestra, in a similar
way to how Britten used the Cello in his Cello Symphony. The world famous
violinist Gidon Kremer is the red-blooded soloist on this recording.
Other versions feature the soloist Robert McDuffie with the Houston
SO on Telarc 80494 and the much fêted performance from Adèle
Anthony with the Ulster Orchestra on Naxos 8.554568.
The Brazilian group UAKTI are the performers in ‘Amazon
River’ which is one of a set of ten movements adapted from Glass’s ballet
‘Aguas da Amazonia’. This is an engaging piece, ethnic in feel, featuring
mainly percussive rhythms with woodwind. These gradually accelerate
in tempo before the work returns to the starting point.
Decca’s compilation demonstrates Glass’s familiar ‘minimalist’
style. This is certainly rhythmic and colourful, written with his usual
assured precision and with his trademark meditative and repetitive spiralling
themes and rippling arpeggios. The recording is up to Decca’s usual
high standard, the booklet notes are acceptable and the selected performances
are fine too. A perfect introduction to the world of Philip Glass.