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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Light (1987) [23:43]
Symphony No. 4 Heroes Symphony (1996) [46:26]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, 16-17 May 2006. DDD

Neither of these attractive scores will do any damage to your knowledge of Glass. Each is in character, deploying the DNA identifiers by which you will have come to love or loathe him. In fairness the second movement of the symphony represents a centripetal departure before centrifugal forces draw the style back to True North. It does not drift far from home, even then.

The Light is part of an ambitious Sibelian symphonic triptych (1987-89) alongside the later The Canyon and Itaipu. This is a storming piece in which his insistent ostinato cells ripple, flow, fall and return. I thought several times of the gripping troika-figure in Sibelius’s Nightride and Sunrise. This however has grander intentions having been inspired by the Michelson-Morley experiment confirming the uniform speed of light. Memorable are its lapping-sighing-flaming woodwind and string figure so much akin to Bernard Herrmann chase music as in North by North-West. There is a typically visceral pounding and thudding tempest of a climax before the music falls away into something more contemplative.

Glass the writer of symphonies is clearly one of the Naxos preoccupations. Two years ago I reviewed the same forces’ recording of the Symphonies 2 and 3. Now we can hear the Fourth Symphony.

Glass has been remarkably productive when it comes to symphonies - witness the following:-

Symphony No. 1 Low (1992)

Symphony No. 2 (1994)

Symphony No. 3 (1995)

Symphony No. 4 Heroes Symphony (1996)

Symphony No. 5 Choral (1999)

Symphony No. 6 Plutonian Ode (2001)

Symphony No. 7 A Toltec Symphony (2004)

Symphony No. 8 (2005)

The Heroes Symphony traces its origins to two albums on which the composer collaborated with David Bowie in Berlin: Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). The six movements of the symphony are: Heroes; Abdulmajid; Sense of Doubt; Sons of the Silent Age; Neuköln; V2 Schneider. I wish I knew what these titles meant. The second movement is a fragile and enchanting with its North African repetitive understatement recalling Holst’s In the Street of Ouled Nails movement from Beni Mora. At times I also heard intimations from de Falla (the ostinatos El Amor Brujo) and Copland (the 1940s pastoral scores). One can also catch the ‘look and feel’ of Handel and Purcell – the latter two also emulated in scores by Glass’s fellow minimalist, Michael Nyman in Where the Bee Dances and Prospero’s Books.

This is a generous disc and although Glass stays firmly in accustomed tracks the musical experience engages and draws you in. His potent way with hypno-rhythmic tonal writing continues visceral and in full spate.

Rob Barnett

Naxos American Classics page


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