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Philip Glass - Symphony #2, Concerto For Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davis, Conductor
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Rauscher Saxophone Quartet - Nonesuch CD 79496
by Keith Barrett

    Over the past four years I’ve really come to love the music of Philip Glass. At first I wasn’t so sure, and when I compared him to other composers using so-called minimalist techniques such as John Adams and Steve Reich, Glass left me kind of cold. Trouble was I had only heard a small amount of he early works. The turn around came when I saw Glass and his Ensemble live performing his opera Beauty and the Beast, which was written to be performed while screening the Jean Cocteau film of the same name. That was a performance I’ll never forget, simply extraordinary and quite moving. I then picked up and was blown away by the soundtrack to Powaaqatsi. Now I have a number of Glass CD’s and have begun airing them on my show, Monday Evening Classics.
    What is it about the music of Philip Glass that attracts me so much? I can’t really say exactly. All I know is that Glass’ music has a certain primal sound which draws me in. There is a dark quality that resonates deep within my emotional spectrum. The repetitiveness of it puts you in a special place suspending time and you let the music travel its own road. One must be open to that quality or the point is lost. Not every one has the same reaction to Glass of course, but for me I am quite thrilled to have his music in my life and to share it with the radio audience.
    That previously mentioned dark quality is heard from the very first notes of the Symphony #2. Dark and searching, with a continual pulse, several scalar melodies appear and are repeated, as is often the case with Glass. The first movement keeps building in intensity and momentum for most of its 17 minute length, but finally ends quietly and unresolved. Beginning where the first movement ends, the second movement is also quite dark in feeling. If anything, it’s even more persistently melancholy. Just jump and wallow in it. The last movement is bright, with lots of bell percussion, high trumpets and swirling winds. Fast paced and exciting, it brings the work to a rousing conclusion. All in all one of Glass’ best works.
    The Concerto of Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra is written on a lighter plain than the symphony, but is quite satisfying in its own way. Glass makes a very strong nod to the saxophone’s popular music roots with each movement containing a dance like quality. The second movement is positively jazzy and one of the least Glass sounding works I’ve heard. A sort of look back to Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, although not so high powered. The third movement featuring the soulful playing of the Rasher’s soprano sax player has a wonderful song like quality.
    If you are unfamiliar with Glass, and wish to explore his music, this CD is a perfect start. Excellent performances, sound and packaging for this Nonesuch effort.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 1999

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