This CD contains the soundtrack music written by Philip Glass for the celebrated film The Hours (which I have not seen) which is based on Michael Cunningham's novel of the same name. It is atmospheric and fluid, taking on a more "classical" feel than much of this composer's work and there are certainly none of the overt exoticisms/orientalisms which colour much of his output. It is also self-referential in that some of the music is based on pieces featured on earlier records (specifically Glassworks, Satyagraha and even Solo Piano).
Although Glass has never been one for real histrionics, even by his standards The Hours is pretty introverted and restrained, perfect no doubt as a backdrop to the story, in which Virginia Woolf and her character Mrs. Dalloway loom large. The aforementioned author of the film's source work contributes a lucid and affecting essay to the excellent booklet (it also includes fairly meaty chunks from each of the relevant sections of the novel itself), describing not just the genesis of the story but also music's pivotal role in his own creative process (Glass of course but also Peter Gabriel, Neil Young and Radiohead are listed as inspirations alongside Schubert, Mozart and Verdi). Returning to the music, it is still, as is always the case with this composer, instantly recognisable, the sweep of the strings, the arpeggiated rhythms, it's all there, albeit in a more sepia tone than normal.
Most commentators would say that some of Philip Glass's best music resides within his movie scores but this one, while entirely pleasant, often relaxing listening, does not have as much of an independence (from the film) as some of the others. There are places where I am more reminded of his Violin Concerto (minus the aforementioned exoticisms) and I did occasionally find myself listening in vain for some of the vigour, even rawness of earlier scores like North Star (my first point of contact with Glassmusic via the cover version on Mike Oldfield's Platinum!). Having said that, the music is "cinematic" in the true sense of the word and therefore achieves its primary purpose. The piano is used a great deal, echoing perhaps the author's debt to Schubert, when writing the original novel, and, to be fair, the emotional level does intensify as we get towards the end of the disc, mirroring developments in the story. The best music is reserved for Choosing Life and The Hours itself, the former achieving a genuine poignancy, the latter doubly so, both characterised by comforting if melancholy washes of strings, augmented by understated, hymnal piano chords and, finally, more percussive keyboard sounds (systems music by harpsichord?).
In the absence of having seen the film, the music does make more sense if you read the novel excerpts first (or indeed the novel if you have time) - certainly the individual track titles are quite easy to follow once you have done so but the disc is still a must have for Glass fans, minimalists and film soundtrack buffs. I enjoyed it but it isn't quite compulsive enough to make me want to return to it regularly.
See also Gary Dalkin's review in February.