Philip GLASS Songs From Liquid Days
National Sinfonia and Crouch End Festival Chorus conducted by David
temple solo vocals by Najma Akhtar and Wills Morgan - HDCD encoded Silva
Classics SILKCD 6023 [59:48]
This album crosses the increasingly thin film music/classical divide
offering Three Songs for Choir A Capella, Vessels (from
the film score Koyaanisqatsi) and Songs From Liquid Days
by noted classical and film composer Philip Glass.
The first work was written as a commission for the 350th
birthday celebrations of Quebec in 1984, the three choral songs playing
for ten minutes and offering settings of texts by Leonard Cohen, "There
Are Some Men", Raymond Lévesque, "Quand Les Hommes Vivront D'Amour"
and Octavio Paz, "Piere de Soleil". Recognisably Glass but far removed
from trademark minimalism, this eloquent pieces find the composer continuing
the centuries old choral tradition in a way which may surprise detractors.
The ideas are fresh and the melodies strong, the popular, acceptable
face of modern classical music.
Vessels is a single movement work lasting almost eight minutes
and derived from the composer's score to the film Koyaanisqatsi (1983),
the "life-of-the-planet" arthouse favourite which combined time-lapse
photography with a wall-to-wall Glass score. Wordless women's voices
come from the left, male voices from the right, the richly dynamic interplay
often having the exhilarating effect of rapid sequencer runs. Eventually
the voices are joined by rhythmic yet melodic orchestral parts, the
instrumentation following the composer's original score; flute, soprano
and tenor saxophones as opposed to later recorded versions. It is an
attractive, joyful piece which, unlike the complete score, does not
outstay its welcome.
Dominating the album is the title work, a new 40-minute arrangement
by Jeremy Marchant for orchestra and choir of Glass' song cycle Songs
From Liquid Days. As Marchant notes, from the beginning he tried
to keep the arrangement so idiomatic that those who did not know otherwise
would feel it had been made by Glass. A further decision in the arrangement
was to produce a work which could be produced live without excessive
expense. Thus music originally given to brass and electronics was reworked
for the choir, while the orchestra was limited to strings, piano flutes,
organ and a lot of percussion. Any changes were made with the approval
of the composer, such as some small cuts in "Changing Opinion" and the
fading of the piano part in the same song.
The cycle consists of six songs, "Changing Opinion" and "Open the Kingdom"
featuring the tenor Wills Morgan, "Freezing" and "Forgetting" featuring
Najma Akhtar, "Lightning" and the title song being for choir and orchestra
alone. Texts are by pop-rock luminaries Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David
Byrne and Laurie Anderson. The result is a work for which the phrase
musical tapestry might have been invented, being richly lyrical, busily
inventive, finely interwoven and filled with youthful American invention
and surging dynamism. Building a work from lines such as "Love rolls
out of the chair and wiggles on the floor" takes confidence, and somehow
Glass pulls a lot of inconsequential "rock poetry" into something musically
coherent and uplifting. From the thrilling opening of "Changing Opinion"
the work goes through a sort of long dark night of the soul, with "Open
the Kingdom" being a prayer for redemption leading to the stark "Freezing"
and the valedictory "Forgetting", which ends with a list of reasons
to live: "Bravery. Kindness. Clarity. Honesty. Compassion. Generosity.
Bravery. Honesty. Dignity. Clarity. Kindness. Compassion."
Tenor Wills Morgan sings the opening and "Open the Kingdom" with a
resolute intensity, expecting nothing less than a positive answer. For
the closing two sections Najma Akhtar takes over, her world music/rock
background further suggesting how irrelevant genre divisions are becoming
in the 21st Century. She balances a direct clarity of voice
- if not that to which the classical world is normally attuned - with
stoic resolution. The work ends with the choir in full flow listing
the reasons to live, a stirring example of contemporary classical/art
music finding a reason to live in art itself.
This is an imaginative disc well recorded and very well performed which
should satisfy both Glass aficionados and film music fans with a taste
for large scale melodic choral writing. Songs From Liquid Days
is that rare thing, modern classical music which leaves a big, happy
smile on the listener's face.
Gary S. Dalkin