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Philip GLASS (b.
Dracula (arr. Michael Reisman) (2007)
rec. Looking Glass Studios, NY
MOUNTAIN OMM0033 [67:51]
have never been so good for fans of Philip Glass's music.
With his record label, Orange Mountain Music, we have a company
publishing disc after disc of new works, live recordings,
new recordings of old works, and "derivative" works,
Glass aficionados are digging deep into their pockets to
keep up with the increase in catalogue. The latest derivative
is this recording of Glass's Dracula, which he composed
as a soundtrack for the classic 1931 film with Bela Lugosi.
The music was originally written for string quartet but producer
and pianist Michael Reisman has arranged the score for solo
piano, in part because his "solo piano transcription
of The Hours score proved so successful". Aha,
success; is it measured monetarily? If The Hours recording
sold well, is that any indication that this one will? In
any case, this recording also "includes a previously
unrecorded track which was composed by Glass but was left
out of the soundtrack recording", so if you're a fan,
you just have to snap it up for the bonus track (Dracula: Epilogue),
to a work like this, divorced from its context - the accompaniment
of a film - you have to judge the music on its own merits.
Envisage the disc as a work of music, regardless of the fact
that it was intended to accompany images, and don't even
compare it to the "original". Since the music was
written for string quartet, and is played on a more limited
instrument, the piano, any comparison would be futile.
disc consists of 27 parts, each named after a different section
of the film. From 44 seconds to over 4 minutes, most of them
are around 2 to 3 minutes long. Within many of the parts,
shorter sections become apparent, so it sounds like the entire
work comprises perhaps one hundred different melodic elements.
Glass's signature style is obvious, with repetitions and
Glassian melodic structures: the rising-falling arpeggios
of the penultimate section, The End of Dracula. Then
there’s counterpoint: Lucy's Bitten section is a good
example of this, with different rhythmic structures for the
low notes, which sound a regular beat, and the high notes,
which sprinkle sounds in a broken rhythm. Michael Riesman
is most certainly a scrupulous arranger. Having long worked
with Glass, as keyboard player and conductor of his ensemble,
Reisman knows this music inside-out. Some parts of the work
sound extremely pianistic such as "Excellent, Mr.
Renfield" and London Fog, with its broad
runs up the keyboard, but a few seem like they were forced
to fit this instrument. One example of this is the use of
rapid notes in The Storm. However, there is a cohesiveness
throughout this work that becomes apparent as one listens.
Sometimes, when the music is less "minimal", such
as the In the Theatre section, which sounds almost
like the accompaniment to a lied by Schubert, the music separates
itself from the overall atmosphere and becomes a collection
of short pieces tied together by a common theme. However,
in general one can almost imagine this being performed as
a long work with many related sections.
I said that I wouldn't compare this to the original, and
that it is best to consider this work on its own merits.
But I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the similarities
and differences between the two, if only for the benefit
of those readers who own the soundtrack and wonder if they
should buy this disc. First, the soundtrack is written for
string quartet, which has a wider range of dynamics and textures
than solo piano, so the differences are notable. The sound
here is more even than in the string quartet version, where
the music ranges from very soft to forte. Next, the piano
version has a different ending, since the "bonus track" is
tacked on at the end. This is a strange place to add additional
music, since the end of any work is often its most memorable
part. This said, it is a good ending, even if it is different;
it's less a bonus track than an extension of the previous
track, The End of Dracula. The main difference is
in the subtle ability of the string quartet to play more music.
The opening of the work begins with grace notes that the
string quartet plays clearly, but which the piano elides.
The London Fog section has the instruments of the
quartet playing on different planes, whereas the piano is
much flatter. The piano version sounds almost sedate compared
to the string quartet version; it sounds like Gershwin to
the quartet's Bartók. The long notes in the high register
of Dracula Enters cannot be reproduced on piano, so
Reisman favours the stepwise left-hard part, playing just
brief notes with the right hand, which in no way match the
drawn-out dissonance of the violins in the quartet version.
In Carriage Without a Driver, the harsh violin notes
that come in at times are obviously replaced by smooth piano
figures. And in the Dr. Van Helsing and Dracula section,
the fluidity of the quartet is lost when the piano plays
a simple melody. All these differences, however, do not mean
that the piano version is any less interesting; it is different,
very different. Musically, I much prefer the string quartet
version, for its textures, for the interplay among the instruments,
and for the varied colours the multiple instruments offer.
in all, this is a very enjoyable listen; perhaps not as attention-grabbing
as some of Glass's other works for piano – there aren’t enough
of them - such as his Solo Piano album, but full of surprises
and intriguing melodies. It is atmospheric and captivating,
attractive and lively. This disc is a welcome addition to
the catalogue of Glass works, and is bound to please those
who like Glass's piano music.
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