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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
LIFE: A Journey Through Time (arr. orchestra by Michael Riesman)
Elements [9.56]
Beginnings [6.19]
Out of the Sea [8.26]
On Land [9.15]
Into the Air [6.06]
Out of the Dark [6.54]
Planet of Life [11.20]
The Hague Philharmonic/Carolyn Kuan
rec. Dr Anton Phillips Hall, The Hague, year not given

This music has a curious history. In its original form, it was premiered at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz in 2006, as a multimedia experience. Marin Alsop was the conductor. This arrangement was made by Michael Riesman, known for his close collaborations with, and arrangements of, Glass – indeed, he seems very largely to have subordinated his own career as a composer to his work for Glass and, to a lesser extent, Gavin Bryars.

The term ‘original’ is a slight misnomer. Each of the pieces on this CD is drawn from earlier works by the composer, including the film scores for Dracula (Elements, part 2), The Secret Agent (Elements part 1), Passage (On Land, part 2), The Man in the Bath (Planet of Life), Piano Etude No. 16 (On Land part 1), the opera Les Enfants Terribles (Into the Air), the ballet Aguas da Amazonia (Out of the Sea), and the film/opera La Belle et La BÍte (Out of the Dark). As a result, the CD has something of a ‘Greatest Hits’ feel, as much is familiar to lovers of Glass.

But there is more to it than that. If we take it as a suite, it has a coherence as a full work, with differences of mood and character within an overall structure. Glass would not be the first composer to recycle earlier works (think of Bach or Handel), but it involves more than simple arrangement to rethink them in a new context. As a concert piece this works well, and one can understand why both Marin Alsop and Carolyn Kuan have championed it in their concerts.

Performances are excellent. Carolyn Kuan’s interpretations are interesting in that her approach to Glass is less edgy than that of some performers, bringing out very well his more lyrical and gentler qualities. There is much to enjoy.

Less impressive is Orange Mountain Music’s presentation of the CD. Given that it is full-price, skimping on presentation is amateur. Notes are sparse and have simple errors: “LIFE has been performed championed…”, and while the days on which the recording was made are given, the year is not, hence my query above. There is nothing to tell us how, musically, this release differs from the music heard at the Cabrillo festival. Recording companies should do better for their customers than this.

Moan over – if you like Glass, you will enjoy this; if you are unfamiliar with his work, this is an excellent place to begin an exploration of his fascinating world.

Michael Wilkinson



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