Monday 5 March 2012

CD review: Philip Glass Concerto Project 4

Philip Glass
Concerto Project Vol.4

Tim Fain (violin)
Wendy Sutter (cello)
Dennis Russell Davies (piano/conductor)

Residente Orkest / The Hague Philharmonic
Jurjen Hempel (Double Concerto)

Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (Tirol Concerto)

The concerto has become a mainstay in Philip Glass's oeuvre.  There have been some stand out entries in the series that began with the 1987 First Violin Concerto, but there have also been some distinctly cut-and-paste jobs that seem content to replicate many much imitated Glassisms.  I'd say the two that appear in volume four of Orange Mountain Music's Philip Glass Concerto Project fit somewhere between these two extremes; both the Double Concerto for violin and cello and the Tirol Concerto for piano have attractions and problems.

Written and premièred in 2010, the Double Concerto owes its existence to a commission from Nederlands Dans Theater for a dance piece.  Its structure is very similar to Glass's recent Violin Concerto No.2 'American Four Seasons', in that it places episodes for the solo instruments between movements with orchestra.  The first of these accompanied movements closely recalls the toe-tapping pulse of the Second Violin Concerto, though it's the duet interludes that prove the most interesting.  But it isn't all as successful.  There aren't many of the alluring harmonic sequences that Glass has come up in recent works; rather, there's some quite plain instrumental writing and homogenised orchestration.  It's a shame not to report a more engaging work, as the combination of violin and cello is a perfect fit for Glass's dark hues and in Tim Fain and Wendy Sutter he has a terrific pair of soloists.

Glass's music has always sounded good on the piano.  The solo piano introduction to the Tirol Concerto (2000) brings a warm remembrance of Opening from the seminal Glassworks album.  It then rushes off on a jolly path that I'm not quite so sure about, but regular Glass collaborator Dennis Russell Davies treads a fine line in the piano part between jaunty and weighty that adds some depth.  The problem, though, is the second of the three movements.  At 16'31, it's almost three times as long as the first or last movements and Glass's variations on his theme simply aren't interesting enough to sustain the duration.  At half the length, it might have balanced with the rest of the work.  As it stands, it just plods on and on like minimalist muzak.  I'm afraid I'd lost interest before the jovial stomp through the finale.

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