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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Symphony No. 2 (1995) [43:14]
Symphony No. 3 (1994) [23:54]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Rec. The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK, 20-21 July 2003


For years the Baltimore-born Philip Glass seemed to be the exclusive property of Nonesuch and CBS-Sony. His music can now be found on many labels including DG-Universal and now Naxos who have also branched out into Adams and Reich.

Flight and propulsion lie at the heart of the much of the writing of the Third Symphony which in its constant insistent interplay of colour and repetitive rhythmic cells exercises a considerable spell upon the listener. Another element at play is a kind of Berber, North African sinuous flavouring and the thudding regularity of the strings’ Holstian heart-beat in the finale. The textures are enriched by the widening and unwinding melodic flow of the leader’s solo violin coursing like a magnetically-stabilising force through the mists of rhythmic activity. The power of the sound belies the specification of only nineteen string players. The Second Symphony is for full orchestra, written for and premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is a work of ambitious proportions in three meaty movements of which the first has an insistent harp undertow and sighing figures that sometimes recall the first movement of Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony. Breathing and lapping cells are part of the Glass currency and he spends this again in the second movement which is dark and conspiratorial in tone until rising up in a sort of chaffing heroism. Fast-spinning incessant whirlpool activity characterises the finale emphasised by bell-sounds at the climaxes and ending in the sort of emphatic stomp you find in the imposing large-scale orchestral pieces of William Schuman.

The Second Symphony has been recorded before on Nonesuch-Warner 7559 79496-2 with the Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The same disc also has the Interlude from Orphée and the Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra.

The usual Naxos design for the American Classics series is encased in a blue-green atmospherically designed card slip case; not unusual for releases that Naxos consider to be special.

There are no other similarly coupled alternative versions. Clearly the linkage of these two symphonies has a certain logic. If the concept attracts then the price and the musical and technical values match the best.

Rob Barnett

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