This record label
has been specifically created to serve the cause of Philip
Glass. The idea, to quote the company’s website, is ‘to archive
all the master recordings that Philip Glass has made and …
bring to the public the wealth of beautiful and unusual recordings
and some very inspired performances’. This is a nice idea
rather undermined in this case by charging full price for
less than 39 minutes of music. This probably won’t bother
die-hard Glass fans, but it’s hardly likely to help bring
the music to a wider general public.
With that gripe
out of the way, it’s good to report some interesting music
in and amongst here. I have to confess to not catching up
with the 8th Symphony’s predecessors, apart from No.2, but
Glass’s own brief liner note tells us that 5, 6 and 7 all
used text settings of one sort or another. By contrast, No.8
marks a return to purely instrumental symphonic writing. Indeed,
Glass was asked by the conductor here, long term collaborator
Dennis Russell Davies, to ‘think of the orchestra as a collection
of virtuoso instruments as you would find in a concerto formation’.
That idea of a ‘concerto for orchestra’, which has inspired
so many composers, also seems to bring the best out in Glass,
certainly for the most part.
If you are already
imagining rather soporific wallpaper music where soothing
sounds drift over you with little harmonic change, then the
opening will be a shock. It really starts with a bang, a full-on,
dramatic call-to-arms of which Haydn or Beethoven would have
been proud. The pulsating cross-rhythms and overlapping melodic
lines that are so typical of the minimalists are there, of
course, but there’s enough invention and real orchestral ingenuity
to keep the listener hooked. The traces of chromatic experimentation
that have crept into his recent scores are present and there
is a toe-tapping catchiness to the whole that is quite engaging.
I have to agree
with other critics that things go rather downhill from here.
The second movement is a passacaglia with variations, but
don’t expect the sort of memorable statements of Brahms, Britten
or Shostakovich. It’s rather dreary and aimless, as is the
even slower third movement, a sort of concluding funeral march.
There are some nice individual touches in both movements but
they just don’t keep the interest and certainly don’t match
the opening movement for inspiration. In fact I could have
happily enjoyed this as a one-movement symphony (or symphonic
poem?) without feeling short-changed – after all, he would
have been following plenty of illustrious examples.
recording certainly serve the piece well and I suppose Glass
fans will need no persuading but the rest should try before