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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Concerto Project, Vol. II
Piano Concerto No. 2 “After Lewis and Clark” (2004) [35:36]
Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra (2002) [23:17]
Paul Barnes (piano)
R. Carlos Nakai (Native American flute)
Jillon Stoppels Dupree (harpsichord)
Northwest Chamber Orchestra/Ralf Gothóni
rec. Bastyr University Chapel, Kenmore, Washington, USA, September 2005.
Experience Classicsonline

Of contemporary American composers, Philip Glass may well be the best represented on disc. Naxos has begun building a library of his orchestral music. Then there is Orange Mountain Music, purveyors of the recording under review, who have as their mission “to serve the fans, aficionados and academics studying the music of Philip Glass”. Their catalog shows close to three dozen releases. Glass has written a lot of music. And, while being a controversial and polarizing figure, he has a uniquely loyal following, so there’s certainly justification for the availability of his works, and in multiple interpretations.
“The Concerto Project, Vol. II” consists of world premiere recordings of two keyboard concertos.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 has the subtitle “After Lewis and Clark.” Like some other minimalist pieces (Nixon in China) the attempt at topicality can result in a bit of a stretch. Pianist Paul Barnes commissioned the work after having cut his teeth on transcriptions of Glass’s operas. Barnes “was particularly interested in the challenging task of presenting both the white and the Native American perspectives” on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The first movement, “The Vision”, consists of high-energy, forward-propulsing writing typical of Glass, “signifying the tremendous resolve and energy required of Lewis and Clark for their extraordinary expedition.” The second movement, “Sacagewea”, features a thoughtful, ambivalent dialogue between the piano and the Native American wooden flute played by R. Carlos Nakai. The composer says of the third movement, “The Land”, “I wanted this final movement to reflect the expanse of time — what the land was before the expedition and what it became after.” It consists of a theme and six variations which the piano and orchestra alternate in canon-style. The movement concludes with a cadenza composed by the soloist.
The Harpsichord Concerto has returned as a vital contemporary form: I think particularly of Górecki’s work in this genre. Harpsichordist Jillon Stoppels Dupree remarks on how baroque Glass’s work sounds. It does indeed form a surprisingly seamless hybrid of the baroque concerto and contemporary minimalism — though more of the former than might be expected. In contrast to other of the composer’s works which I might describe as “neon bright,” this work is lightly textured and graceful in development. Dupree describes her rehearsal sessions with Glass, noting his humility in being willing to reduce orchestration to one-to-a-part to allow the harpsichord to be properly heard. The results evince the effectiveness of the collaborative effort.
The stereotypical image of a work by Glass is of ostinato repetition of short musical phrases, which transform very, very gradually over tens of minutes. The works on this recording show more variety and traditional musical development than that picture would predict. That said, this recording will be welcomed with great enthusiasm by Glass’s fans, while those who aren’t attracted to his unique style won’t find much here to change their minds. The booklet notes are written by the respective soloists, which is a nice touch.
Brian Burtt

see also review by David Barker (June 2008 Recording of the Month)


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