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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Symphony For Eight from Symphony No. 3, movement III [9:46]
Company movements I and II from Quartet No. 2 [4:07]
Mishima movements III and IV from Quartet No. 3 [4:04]
The Secret Agent for cello octet and synthesizer (The Secret Agent [4:11]; Blood on the Stairs [1:38]; Emigration [1:49]; Winnie Goes to Sea [2:35]; The Secret Agent Ending [2:48])
Attack and Fall from the opera Akhnaten [8:01]
Funeral of Amenhotep III from the opera Akhnaten [9:08]
Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico (Jeroen den Herder, Robert Putowski, Artur Trajko, Hanneke van de Bund, Christiaan van Hemert, Esther Iglesias, Esme de Vries, Mikolaj Palosz, cello)); Astrid Lammers, Ilona Stokvis, Ronald Aijtink, Martijn de Graaf Bierbrauwer, Robert Kops, Bert Visser, Jean Paul van Spaendonk (singers)/ Elias Arizcuren rec. Doopsgezinde Kerk, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 2001. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

Philip Glass is a composer whose body of work readily lends itself to re-orchestration. In fact, many of his early works were written with intentionally vague orchestrations to allow for greater ease in performance. That said, it's doubtful that Glass himself would have thought that works written for full orchestra, and supplemented with synthesizers, would be as easily suited to an ensemble consisting of eight cellos, occasionally supplemented with vocalists. However, as the liner-notes indicate, Glass was so impressed with Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico's rendition of his Symphony III, movement 3, that he gave them his blessing to dive into his catalog and pluck anything from his works for their performance. The results are presented here. 

The first work, titled here Symphony for Eight, is the original work that impressed Glass so much. It is easy to discern why Glass would have been so interested in having the octet re-imagine his other works. This version carries both the weight and intimacy of the original, and is performed flawlessly. 

The next track, String Quartet No. 2 from Company, the play by Samuel Beckett, is somber and serious. The music was composed to reflect Beckett's words of an old man looking back on his life and finding loneliness. The forlorn sound of the cello could not be better suited to this mood. The results are immensely moving. 

The next several works are from Glass's compositions as a composer of film scores. This has been a fertile ground for the composer throughout his career, and many of these works are among his most recognizable. Thus it makes sense that this would be a good source for many of the musical selections here. 

String Quartet No. 3, Mishima, is culled from the Paul Schrader film about the controversial Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. Glass then collapsed portions of the score into a string quartet that could be performed as a stand-alone work. Here Conjunto Iberico performs the 3rd and 4th movements of that work, with many of the harmonizations reminiscent of the film score owing to the greater number of players at their disposal. The result is at least on par with the original if not superior. 

Facades is originally from Koyaanisqati, and originally scored for an orchestral string section and two saxophones. The rendition here is well done, though the lack of timbre differentiation between the winds and strings is missed. This is such a slowly developing work that here it feels as if it lacks something without timbre shifts. That said, it's still impressively performed. It simply is not as strong an arrangement as it would be with something else to bring out the melodic lines. 

There are then five selections from the 1995 film The Secret Agent performed by eight cellos and a synthesizer. Unlike the previous tracks this music was not first redacted into a single work that would then be performed as a cohesive unit. Instead these are short works that all are capable of standing on their own, but were originally composed to accompany the action in the film. There are moments where this works incredibly well, such as the short work The Blood on the Stairs or Winnie Goes to Sea. The strings carry most of the music, and the synthesized portions are perfectly placed to highlight the mood of the work and offer contrast. In other places however, such as the movement "Emigration", the synthesizer seems more intrusive when it enters. It does lend more of a feeling of a full orchestra or a film, but as a stand-alone work it is less successful here. 

The final two pieces are taken from Glass's opera Akhnaten, and they are masterfully arranged and performed. Singers are introduced to lend more of a flavor of the original operatic work. Really the only thing "missing" is the emphasis and energy that the low brass lends at times. The cello simply doesn't convey the energy of the bass trombone. This is a minor issue. A listener who was not already intimately familiar with the works would probably never miss the brass, especially with the singers providing such an energetic and solid performance. Additionally the percussion remains intact in these recordings, though there are no percussionists credited in the liner-notes. Musically this is certainly a boon. Attack and Fall without the driving percussion would certainly lack the energy of the original instrumentation. All told those who know Akhnaten well will probably find other recordings more to their liking, but these are certainly well performed and a credit to the cello octet. 

Overall this is a very good, though non-essential, collection of Philip Glass's works performed by one of the most talented collectives of cellists on the planet. It is certainly a well performed and enjoyable listening experience. The arrangements have managed to hold onto the most attractive parts of Glass's originals. There are even points where these arrangements may be superior to the originals, such as in Company and Mishima. In other places the experiment is less successful, though not in any way sub-par. If nothing else, it highlights both the compositional prowess of Glass and the virtuosity of the players of the Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico. Really, what more could one ask for in a recording? 

Patrick Gary




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