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Philip GLASS  Symphony No 2* ; Interlude from Orphée 1992 **; Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra *** * Vienna Radio S.O. ** Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra *** Rasher Saxophone Quartet/Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra all conducted by Dennis Russell Davies  

  NONESUCH-WARNER 7559 79496-2 [69:27]  

Glass is part of that generation of once peripheral figures with a popular minimalist touch who are now much closer to the centre-stage and have moved into the "velvet" class of commission and recording. Nyman, Reich and Adams are to a greater or lesser extent in the same category. At one time their works were written for small ensembles. With success the commissions flood in for bigger canvasses. All now tap into (and have played their role in creating) the fashion for melody and accessibility. Reich’s 1970s orchestral Variations is an early example of devastatingly attractive minimalistic music. Some of that soul breathes in this music,

The Symphony features an insistent pulse which serves to drive everything forward and is never far away. A faintly middle eastern theme (echoes of the operas Satyagraha and Akhnaten?) is also never far away and both pulse and this theme provide a binding element for all four movements. The pulse is like the galloping theme in Sibelius’s Nightride and Sunrise (another filmic piece) or the slight foundation hysteria of Herrmann’s North by North-West and Psycho music. Over this pulse various romantic elements wind undemandingly. Occasionally I thought of American/Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness who adopts (and has for many years) a similar approach (try his St Varian and Majun symphonies). In the more vigorous movements I occasionally thought of Copland, William Schuman and Roy Harris (try the third movement at 7:04). None of the four movements or panels seems to be a conventional slow movement although each has episodes of fast and slow music. Ultimately the symphony gives the impression that it could have been shorter, less repetitive and more concisely effective. There is not one ugly moment in the work but a steady flow of beautiful music of more than forty minutes maybe a little too much.

Glass is not new to the symphony. His First "Low" Symphony was recorded by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies on Point Music 438 150-4PTH and runs for 42 minutes. I have not heard this work but from descriptions it seems likely that the two works share much of the same character. The Orphée Interlude continues in a similar vein to the symphony. It is an extract from a trilogy of Cocteau-inspired works of which music for La Belle et la Bête has been very highly praised.

The saxophone Quartet Concerto is haunted by the same pulse as the symphony. It chugs reassures and disquiets in the background, alternatively nagging and caressing. Each movement is played by a different member of the quartet. This is a practical move as it also works as a concerto with a single soloist with a rack of four registers of instruments (soprano, tenor, alto and baritone). The second movement is a lovely conception and here is hoping that Classic FM have discovered it. The tobacco-chocolate tones of the last movement and the lively beat end the disc on an up-beat with some of the elation of Michael Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances (a work you must hear).

This is a well-filled disc and we should be grateful for that. It is presented in an additional cardboard case which is probably destined not to survive too long. Documentation is OK, though brief. Cover monochrome photograph of a towering cliff-face scene catches the attention. All the key stuff about premieres is here.

Did you enjoy Gorecki Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Nyman’s Gattica or Glass’s own Koyaanisqatsi? If so try out Glass’s concert works. You will find the ones on this disc accessible and balm for the ear and mind

Rob Barnett.

And another view of this CD from Ian Lace:-

Philip Glass has, of course, contributed individual and effective scores for a number of films including Kundun, The Secret Agent, Anima Mundi, The Thin Blue Line and Candyman (for which as yet there is no recording) so it is interesting to hear more of his concert works after the success of his "Low" Symphony. This new Symphony No.2 (1994) represents for me the acceptable face of minimalism. As Rob Barnett says above there is a strong pulse binding all the disparate elements of this most attractive - almost hypnotically spellbinding symphony. It is a most successful study in polytonality with each movement growing organically; the repetitions (mostly) avoiding monotony by skilful modulations and fascinating splashes of colour. There is, above all, a sense of atmosphere and movement both essential attributes for a successful film score - so I suggest that listeners fill a cinema screen of their imagination with pictures according to what the music suggests to them. For instance, in keeping with the illustration of the sheer Arizona cliffs on the CD booklet, I imagined the opening movement based on North American Indian folk-rhythms and the pounding hooves of their horses. The final movement took me first to some oriental locale and then to some carnival or fairground but for much of the movement I visualised a steam train crossing an immense plain - the colourful use of cymbals, tambourine and tuba helped to reinforce this impression. The middle movement is intense and brooding. Like Rob, I was very much reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock’s films especially for North by North-West, Psycho and Vertigo. In fact I turned down the sound as I played my video for the early scenes in Vertigo in which James Stewart’s character follows that of Kim Novak around San Francisco and discovered that the Glass music fitted very well. Parts of this movement also worked well for the scenes where Janet Lee is driving towards the Bates Motel and her nemesis in Psycho. I have to agree that the Symphony might have been judiciously edited; the level of invention in the first movement is allowed to sag for a while at about eleven minutes into its seventeen minute duration. Nevertheless, this is quite an achievement. Weep, Nyman, weep! The Concerto is another intriguing work and is most successful in exploring the reaches of the instrument. I liked especially the third movement which begins with a haunting string theme before saxophones join in with melancholy material of their own; and the high spirited and catchy last movement

Ian Lace

[As a pendant to the above review I recommend the Nonesuch recording (7559-79442-2)of Philip Glass’s music for the 1996 film, The Secret Agent, based on Joseph Conrad’s novel set in late-nineteenth century London and starring Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette and Gerard Depardieu. Once again Glass shows he can turn his minimalist style to the demands of any screenplay, this time to a darker tale of violence, oppression and guilt; but also of tenderness. For me, this is one of Glass’s most compelling scores. - I.L.]

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