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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Les Enfants Terribles (1996, arr. Michael Riesman, 2020) [43:35]
Etude No. 17 [8:00]
Etude No. 20 [11:38]
Katia & Marielle Labèque (piano)
Rec. July 2020, La Fabrique des Ondes, Saint-pee-sur-nivelle, France.

Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles was originally a dance-opera, a complete recording of which can be found on the Orange Mountain Music label (review). This two-piano arrangement for the Labèque sisters is new, but is not the first time some of this music has appeared in this format, with some scenes played by Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies, also on the OMM label (review). Based on the work of Jean Cocteau,“Les Enfants is the story of Paul and Elisabeth, two characters so caught up in a world of their own imaginings that they can no longer see a reality beyond their ‘game’.”

Listening to some of the original opera, the instrumental accompaniment is already quite piano-heavy, so the essence of the music is retained and we basically have a piano duo suite without the distraction of vocalists and general bumping around on stage you might have with a live theatre recording. Glass’s music is more note than colour-based in any case, so will usually brush up well on piano. Philip Glass’s many fans will know what to expect, but there is a good deal of theatrical drama and energetic drive which prevents this work from drifting into anything overly meditative. The powerful Overture sets us up well for this, and moments such as the opening of They Lived Their Dream are pure attention-grabbing theatre music. Beauty and reflection is well represented in numbers such as The Somnambulist, and Terrible Interlude, that has some low Beethovenian darkness added to the contrary motion of the two pianos. The music has a natural flow and is always entertaining, but lacks the thematic distinctiveness that gives the best moments of Akhnaten its magical qualities. This is however chamber opera rather than the expansiveness of anything orchestral, and the return of the violence of the opening in the last piece, Paul’s End, provides sufficient dramatic framework to give the whole structural narrative a satisfying shape, even if that opening Overture theme and its reprise at 2:40 in Paul’s End reminds me a bit too much of Danny Elfman’s ‘Making Christmas’.

The programme is filled out with two solos, Marielle Labèque playing Etude No. 17, which suitably counters the opera’s up-front and dramatic side, while Katia Labèque supplies a dreamy and romantic conclusion with Etude No. 20. Everything is superbly played and well recorded as you would expect, though perhaps a bit thundery in the loudest passages of Les Enfants Terribles. The CD has a glossy gatefold sleeve but no booklet.

Dominy Clements

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