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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Venezuelan Elegy
Orphée Suite for Flute, Strings and Percussion (arr. James Strauss) [26.05]
Metamorphosis II for Flute, Strings and Harp (arr. Philip Glass and James Strauss) [8.55]
Morning Passages (from The Hours) for Flute, Strings, Harp, Piano and Glockenspiel (arr. James Strauss) [5.58]
Façades (from Glassworks No.2) for Flute and Strings (arr. James Strauss) [8.41]
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (2018 - Violin Concerto No.1 - arr. James Strauss) [27.07]
James Strauss (flute)
Camerata Simón Bolívar/Alfonso Lopés Ch.
rec. Sala “José Felix Ribas” at Teresa Carreño Theatre; Centro de Accion Social por la Musica, Sala Fedora Aleman; Studios Velvet, Caracas, Venezuela; no dates

The connection with Venezuela lies not in the music, but in the circumstances of the recording in Caracas. There is little secret about these desperate times for the people of Venezuela, though some outside the country still seem unaware of the appalling nature of life in the Chávez-Maduro years. What should be an oil-rich nation has seen hyperinflation, shortages and widespread malnutrition: in several recent years it has topped the world misery index. OMM and the Brazilian flautist, James Strauss, are to be congratulated in showing support for the people by making this recording in Caracas.

But this is an intrinsically valuable enterprise. The use of the flute makes possible – as good arrangements do – highlighting of aspects of the music not always so evident in the original form. Sometimes arrangements are made simply to showcase the talent of the performer, with the original just there to enhance a player’s reputation for virtuosity. Not so here. James Strauss is a most accomplished player, but it seemed to me, always a servant of the music.

For many, the highlight of the disc will be the Glass-sanctioned (and suggested) arrangement of Violin Concerto No.1, and it is fine indeed, though the orchestral sound is a little reticent in places. I enjoyed it very much, though I suspect I shall in future still turn first to the violin version – either Gidon Kremer on DG, or (my first choice), Adele Anthony on Naxos 8.554568. As a piece (written in memory of Glass’ father), it is deeply felt and – very moving. In this new arrangement, Strauss is alive to the nuance in the piece, and it will give great pleasure.

I was excited by the inclusion of the Orphée Suite, based on the opera (recently given by ENO in a most enjoyable and eloquent production). The music in the original is for reduced orchestra, so the new arrangement is reflective of that intimacy. The opera tracks closely Cocteau’s film from 1950, acting as a sort of commentary and deepening the experience. It is a lovely score, varied and sometimes witty. There is one recording of the whole piece, with the Portland Opera conducted by Anne Manson (OMM0068), from 2010 – it is well worth exploring. Glass has made his own Suite for Piano, but what the new recording captures well is the original flavor of the piece.

The other works are also most enjoyable, with Metamorphosis II for Flute, Strings and Harp arguably the highlight. Strauss and Glass collaborated on this arrangement, and the result is most attractive.

I have sometimes carped in my reviews about poor notes – and sometimes none at all – from OMM. Here, though I would have liked more on the music itself, there is an attempt to be informative, with a very useful account by Strauss of the genesis of these recordings, as well as full information about the artists.

The dedication throughout is evident, and the programme as a whole would make an excellent introduction to the world of Glass.

Michael Wilkinson

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