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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
A Descent into the Maelstrom (Orchestral Arrangement by Aleksander Waaktaar)
Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra/Tim Weiss
No recording details supplied

This is a very enjoyable release, despite serious questions raised by the presentation. One advantage a CD should have, over streaming or downloads, is easily accessed and helpful documentation. ‘Shoddy’ would be a polite description of what is offered here.

Into the Maelstrom is an arrangement by Waaktaar of a piece for dance theatre from 1986. The original was recorded by The Philip Glass Ensemble and released on OMM0005 in 2000. The original version (which, as here, was a setting for the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name) was for a theatre work. The new version was created as music for a film by Jan Verdøen. The reorchestration, like the original, uses electronic instruments, in this case two synthesisers, as well as a wordless soprano. The principal difference is the use of a full (but not huge) orchestra, the admirable Arctic Philharmonic.

As too often from Orange Mountain Music, the accompanying documentation is execrable. The twelve page booklet has on page 1 a very pretty picture of a fjord, pages 2 and 3 show players from the orchestra marching up the mountainside with their instruments (as one does), overlaid by exactly ten lines of information on the music, pages 4 and 5 list the names of the orchestra, on 6 and 7 they are still marching up the hillside in an orderly line, on pages 8 and 9 they are sitting making the recording, on pages 10 and 11, all sorts of people are thanked, as in an Oscar ceremony, and page 12 is blank. From the thanks to the technical manager of Stormen Concert Hall, which is in Bodø, I assume that was the venue used for recording.

The cover of the CD is worse. This shows on the back the orchestra playing on the mountain top, wearing rainproof gear (a bit of rain does wonders for instruments) and looking thoroughly soaked and frozen. This also lists all the tracks and their timings (though no total). The problem is that all the timings are wrong – they are identical to those shown on the original ensemble recording of OMM0005, which presumably have just been cut and pasted. In general, the new recording is more spacious. For example, the lovely 5th movement (of 18), Tranquillity, is around 6’19, rather than the 6’04 shown on the cover. The overall timing is close to 70 minutes.

And, make no mistake, this is a most rewarding recording. The music, while having so many touching characteristics, is firmly rooted in Glass’ 1980s language. I much enjoyed the wider range of sounds offered by using a full orchestra, and, the clarity of detail in the recording. Despite – or partly because of – the familiar Glass fingerprints, there is both variety and sensitivity. I would like, in future, to hear much more from this versatile orchestra. Based in Bodø and Tromsø, it reshapes itself into different groups, the full orchestra, as here, the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, the Arctic Philharmonic Sinfonietta (of which the American Tim Weiss is conductor), and the Arctic Opera.

Michael Wilkinson

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