Naxos have a reputation for enterprise and ingenuity. Capitalising
on the popularity of Philip Glass they now issue as a single entity
the two discs issued over the last five years and another dating
from almost a decade ago. The collection makes sense and is undeniably
The Second Symphony
is for full orchestra. It is an ambitious work 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. Fast-spinning incessant whirlpool
activity characterises the finale emphasised by bell-sounds
at the climaxes and ending in an emphatic stomp.
Flight and propulsion
lie at the heart of the much of Glass’s writing. In the Third
Symphony it’s there in the constant insistent interplay
of colour and repetitive rhythmic cells. Another element is
the Berber, North African sinuous flavouring and the thudding
regularity of the strings’ Holstian heart-beat.
is part of an ambitious Sibelian symphonic
triptych (1987-89) alongside the later The Canyon and
Itaipu. It is a stormy piece in which Glass’s 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. Memorable
are its lapping-sighing-flaming woodwind and string figure akin
to Herrmann’s chase music from North by North-West. There
is a typically visceral pounding and thudding tempest of a climax
before the music falls away into contemplation.
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 of de Falla (the ostinatos El
Amor Brujo) and Copland (the 1940s pastoral scores).
The disc which has
been longest in the catalogue is that featuring the Violin
Concerto in a good performance from Adele Anthony but not
one that outpoints the one from Robert McDuffie on Telarc (CD-80494)
or, even more imposingly, the original DG recording with Gidon
Kremer. Anthony is notably good in the wonderful way in which
she handles the more confiding music in the finale. Both Company
and Akhnaten do no violence to your expectations
of Glass. No surprises then but attractive music-making. This
disc lacks the compelling qualities of the other two.
Glass stays firmly
in his accustomed and enthralling tracks. These are musical experiences
that engage and draw you in. His potent way with hypno-rhythmic
tonal writing continues in full spate.