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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Concerto Project - Volume 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 State, September 2005
Experience Classicsonline

Unless you have just arrived from Mars, you know in advance what you are going to get with Philip Glass: there is no mystery about the style, unlike Stravinsky, for example. A word of advice for the interplanetary travellers – perhaps you would be better to start with Mozart! You either like the Glass style or you don’t. I don’t believe there would be too many people who are ambivalent about his version of minimalism.
As a consequence, I am assuming that if you have read this far, indeed that you have even clicked on the review link, then you are here because you are in the former camp and you therefore don’t need a detailed explanation of his characteristic language.
Both works presented here were written after Glass’s work on the film-score for The Hours (see review) and each shares the melody and romanticism that feature so strongly in that music. If like me, you consider that film score to be something approaching a masterpiece - it is one of my Classic Classics - then you will very much enjoy these two concertos.
Paul Barnes, has transcribed some of Glass’s operas for piano, and commissioned the composer to write a new work for piano. It was Barnes who proposed the program of the story of the American explorers, Lewis and Clark, which inspired the composer to include the sound of the Native American flute in the second movement.
The first movement is entitled “The Vision” and is described by Glass as “musical steamroller” signifying the resolve and energy of the two explorers. The characteristic motoric Glass rhythms are an obvious match for such a musical picture, and Glass makes his soloist work hard: the piano rests for only four bars in the eleven-minute movement. The second movement, “Sacagawea” is a duet between the piano and Native American flute and features the renowned flutist Carlos Nakai. Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian and companion for the explorers. The flute is given two themes: one representing her name in music, the second a traditional Shoshone dance. The final movement – “The Land” – is the longest of the three, and is not a traditional virtuoso finale for the soloist. I find it the strongest of the three, perhaps not surprisingly as it is closest in tone to the music from The Hours in its emotion, and in places, sadness.
I am usually not a fan of the harpsichord, preferring my baroque keyboard music on the piano, so I was totally unprepared for just how wonderful this Harpsichord Concerto is. It begins as though we have stumbled into a toccata by Bach, before the orchestra enters with characteristic Glassisms. Throughout the movement, there is a sense of being carried forwards and backwards in time. There is a prominent role for the flute as support for the keyboard through the first movement. The second is a glorious adagio in all but title - there are no tempo indications for any of the movements – and has a role for solo violin and flute again. Gravely beautiful and intensely moving, it is, without doubt, one of the finest achievements of Glass’s long career. The finale is 4:50 of sheer fun, jazzy in its syncopation, and gives Ms Dupree the chance to let her hair down after the elegance and beauty of the first two movements. I can imagine the performers and audience breaking out into the widest of smiles as the work moves towards its giddy conclusion. Bravo!
The two keyboard soloists premiered these works and perform with distinction. The Northwest Chamber Orchestra which unfortunately folded in 2006 (see article in the Seattle Times) play with gusto and delicacy as required. The recording is rich and defined, and the harpsichord is neither too prominent nor shrill.
My website duties for MusicWeb International restrict my time for writing reviews, so I limit myself to CDs which have really impressed me. This is one such recording, and there is absolutely no doubt that this will appear among my Records of the Year.
David J Barker


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