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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Saxophone Quartet (1995) (arr. Brooklyn Rider for violin, two violas and cello) [23.57]
String Quartet No. 6 (2013) [23.18]
String Quartet No. 7 (2014) [16.52]
Brooklyn Rider
rec. 2017, Oktaven Studio, Mount Vernon, USA

This is an important release, and not only for lovers of Philip Glass. Those familiar with his first five quartets will obviously enjoy the new directions taken in the Sixth and Seventh, but the CD offers a synthesis of the developments in the composer’s musical growth.

The Saxophone Quartet from 1995, here rearranged by Brooklyn Rider, has many of the features that people associate with the Glass of the Third and Fourth Symphonies – many of the tropes are familiar, and in this arrangement are most attractive. Unusually, this version is for two violas, a single violin and cello. The two violas provide both depth and richness to the scoring, to striking and rather beautiful effect, as in the long eloquent phrases at the start of Movement I. The second movement is a jazz inflected piece with strong jagged rhythms. Perhaps the heart of the work is the reflective, gently throbbing third movement.

String Quartet No 6, in three movements, from 2013, is a darker work. There has been a considerable development from the first five quartets, the last of which was from 1991. There are familiar Glass trademarks in muscular expression present from the first movement. There is emotional depth and complexity, with moments of forthright dissonance. Textures are quite dense, especially in Movement I, and throughout there is a restlessness of mood and utterance.

String Quartet No.7, from 2014, is a single movement of around 17 minutes. From the opening dark, rather Bachian cello statement, there is the expression of serious intent. It is a demanding piece, complex and, one senses, deeply personal. I admired it very much but suspect I shall have to live with it for a long time fully to appreciate its mastery. For this alone, the CD should be acquired.

Recording quality is admirable, and performances idiomatic. As so often with OMM, notes are thin. This is a pity as for some listeners this might very well be the first experience of Glass, and guidance is always useful. Even for the Glass enthusiast there is room for further and deeper appreciation. In one sense, great music speaks for itself – but the odd footnote remains informative.

Michael Wilkinson

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