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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Complete Piano Etudes (1994-2012) [143:05]
Jeroen van Veen (piano)
rec. 2017, Van Veen Productions, Studio II, Pernissimo, Pernis, the Netherlands.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95563 [2 CDs: 143:05]

This release joins Jeroen van Veen’s other programme of Philip Glass’s piano music on Brilliant Classics 9419 (review). This was recorded in the Barbara Church in Culemborg, since when van Veen has set up a new studio called Pernissimo in Pernis, which unexpectedly sounds more resonant than the church in an A/B comparison. The recording is full and rich, perhaps even to a fault, but even with a slightly puffy mid-range there is no shortage of clarity and depth both in dynamics and timbre.

Philip Glass’s Piano Etudes all deal with different aspects of performance, following in the grand tradition of Chopin, Liszt, Czerny and others. Van Veen points out that, “in almost all of the etudes, endurance is the main issue to overcome.” This is surprising to hear from this minimalist specialist known to perform works timed in hours rather than minutes, but some of these etudes contain techniques unknown in any other pieces in the genre, so will be a test for any pianist. Van Veen doesn’t go in for extreme tempi, nor does he dress the music up in too much beauty. Etude No. 2 can become quite the legato perfume-parlour, but this version articulates the note values and doesn’t wash over us with pedal-enriched impressionist vapours. Rhythmic clarity and a kind of inner energy propels pieces like Etude No. 3, avoiding splashy ritenuti and unnecessarily theatrical drama. These are all superbly controlled performances but manage to avoid becoming matter-of-fact or dull in any way. This comes from van Veen’s keen ear for details and for Glass’s own references to his musical ancestors, distinctive layering of sound, and an unerringly focussed musical compass that keeps the journey interesting while never losing sight of an inevitable destination.

There are various recordings of Philip Glass’s Etudes around. I enjoyed VŪkingur ”laffson’s selection on Deutsche Grammophon (review), but there are also numerous complete editions. Nicolas Horvath is interesting on the Grand Piano label GP690, though he occasionally goes a bit too mad with the tempi, making a helter-skelter ride out some of the etudes at the expense of clarity and even accuracy at times. Maki Namekawa is good on Orange Mountain Music with some reservations about sound quality (review), Sally Whitwell has a complete recording on ABC Classics which is beautiful in the slower etudes but a bit pedestrian with the more up-tempo numbers, and Jenny Lin has her 2017 Steinway Artists label recording which is decent enough, though the recording is rather dry and studio-bound.

Jeroen van Veen can bring out the meditative qualities of some of these etudes as well as the best of them, but is good at pointing out Glass’s tensions of tonality and melodic shape so that, even while in a state of relaxation, we are also held in a state of expectation and anticipation. The longest of these, Etude No. 7 is a good case in this regard, with subtle variation given to the repetitions, and the essence of simple ideas turned into something that can be both intimate and monumental. Further highlights for me include the deliciously Rachmaninov-infused Etude No. 11 and the witty ‘tick-tock’ of Etude No. 12, the quasi-jazz left hand of Etude No. 14, and Etude No. 18 that starts out as a sort of ‘Schubertiade’ but then goes off in all kinds of unexpected directions. The elegance of the final Etude No. 20 is sublime.

This is a highly satisfying recording of Philip Glass’s complete piano Etudes and, looking at the competition, has to be considered easily one of the most attractive around, especially at Brilliant Classics’ competitive pricing.

Dominy Clements

Book I
Etude 1 in G minor [6:29]
Etude 2 in A minor [7:26]
Etude 3 in A [4:46]
Etude 4 in D minor [4:23]
Etude 5 in F minor [9:49]
Etude 6 in F minor [5:49]
Etude 7 in A minor [14:40]
Etude 8 in C [7:03]
Etude 9 in F minor [3:53]
Etude 10 in E-flat [8:37]
Book II
Etude 11 in C minor [8:29]
Etude 12 in D minor [7:44]
Etude 13 in F [4:57]
Etude 14 in A-flat [6:16]
Etude 15 in D [7:46]
Etude 16 in G minor [4:28]
Etude 17 in F minor [8:42]
Etude 18 in G minor [4:28]
Etude 19 in C [5:50]
Etude 20 in C [10:03]



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