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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Cluster Ensemble Plays Philip Glass
Two Pages (1968) [28.36]
Music in Fifths (1969) [17.51]
Music in Contrary Motion (1969) [29.02]
Music in Similar Motion (1969) [18.21]
Music with Changing Parts (1970) [50.25]
Cluster Ensemble:
Ivan Šiller (Artistic Director/ Electric Organ)
Fero Király (Artistic Director/ Electric Organ)
Zuzana Biščáková (Electric Organ)
Nikolaj Nikitin (Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone)
Branislav Dugovič (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet)
Martin Adámek (Clarinet)
Robert Kolář (Trumpet)
Veronika Vitázková (Flute, Piccolo)
Fabian Franco Ramirez (Flute)
Lenka Novosedlíková (Marimba)
rec. Bratislava, June 2015, Košice, June, 2015
Also released as HEVHETIA HV 0109-111-2-331
ORANGE MOUNTAIN MUSIC OMM0109 [46.27 + 47.23 + 50.25]

‘Knock-knock!’
‘Who’s there?’
‘Phi-phi-phi-phi-phi-phi-phi….’
‘Phi-phi-phi–phi–phi-phi-phi- Who?’
‘Phi-phi-phi-phi-phi-phi-phi-Philip Glass’.

By general consent, this is one of the worst musical jokes. But when confronted by early Phillip Glass, it is easy to see how such a caricature could come about. And it is a caricature, in that simply to hear him as endlessly repetitious is to miss the point. Careful attention to the music demonstrates the variety of subtle changes. Glass always attends to the question of the line of the music – he is not afraid to take half an hour to develop an idea.

This set gives a valuable insight into the works of the late 1960s. It is no surprise that they are – to use Michael Nyman’s term from a 1968 Spectator article about Cornelius Cardew – ‘Minimalist’. Though Glass did not use the word at that time, the works in this set aptly illustrate Nyman’s meaning. Glass was reacting against the atonal music of Babbitt and others. Serialism had led to rather scrappy pieces, lacking tonal centres – Glass wanted to bring music back to where it had begun, and these works are a sort of manifesto for ideas of consistent development and a recovery of rhythm. There is an angriness and sense of manifesto in the ruthless reductivism (as emphasised by the titles) of these works. Two Pages is the simplest example here, with a simple line and the influence of Ravi Shankar evident.

For the present compilation, Ivan Šiller and Fero Király have chosen to concentrate on arranging works for electric organ. The result is to emphasize the austerity of the pieces. Performances on the first two CDs of this set are arranged just for the two artistic directors. The result is that, while one has to concentrates on the notes, the ear tires. These performances are different from those by the Philip Glass Ensemble (all four pieces may be found on a single CD (Nonesuch 79326-2) from 1994. I preferred the greater range of sounds on the Nonesuch recording. Two Pages in the earlier recording benefits from the contrast of organ and piano.

Perhaps most successful item on this set is Music with Changing Parts, not least because the use of other instruments allows greater focus on the music itself. It is also perhaps the most significant of the pieces in this set. My preference in this work would be the recording made in 2006 by Icebreaker (Orange Mountain Music 0035), not least because the larger and more varied instrumental ensemble brings out more strongly some of the jazz influences.

This set is well-recorded and useful as an alternative in these works, but not a first choice for any of them. The booklet is as uninformative as it is pretentious. Ten pages are just black blanks. Some of the content is risible: To lie down in the stream, let one’s motionless body repose in waves, feeling their strong gusts, being carried far away. Without thoughts, without desire, because desire is fully expressed by the joyful peace of music. Shortly you know that this music is in you like your own life that flows in from outside and flows out from within. The beat of your heart – the rustle of blood in the bloodstream – slowly breathing in and out – trembling edges of nostrils. The outer topography of music plots its elevations inwards.

I feel so much wiser for reading that ...

Overall, this is a set which does not supplant other recordings, and is perhaps for Glass completists only.

Michael Wilkinson
 

 

 




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