Leave it to Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony to deliver one of the more impressive classical discs of 1999: a pairing of the violin concertos of John Adams and Philip Glass. Hearing the works of these two American music mavericks side-by-side is a study in contrasts: Adams's postmodernist composition from 1993 is filled with spooky overtones, as the violin threads its way through the piece, always at the forefront.
Violinist Tim Fain has worked extensively with minimalist composer Philip Glass in performances and in the preparation of new pieces, and the most impressive result of their collaboration may be the Partita for solo violin (2010), a seven-movement suite written especially for Fain. Associations with Johann Sebastian Bach's violin partitas are inevitable, and it's clear that Glass has had them in mind while composing in what can be described as an aspirational, rather than a merely imitative, manner. Glass has for the most part avoided his customary ostinatos and static sections, and his use of broken chords only suggests counterpoint, rather than propulsive rhythmic patterns. He has also eschewed any direct references to Bach or Baroque style, yet the Partita's kinship with the older models is certainly felt, and Fain's playing has a lot to do with it. The ebb and flow of tempos and the expressive use of rubato give the Partita an introspective feeling, and the freedom of individual expression is quite removed from the locked-in, high-energy ensemble playing that was Glass' early trademark style.
With SOLO PIANO, Glass presents himself "unplugged" - no electronic keyboards or synthesizers, and no overdubs, either - just solo piano. Here, Glass' connection to the established "classical" tradition is most evident. Though his pieces are "minimal" (subtly altered repeated patterns or melodic motifs), yet they have an unsentimental beauty and heartfelt grace that one would hear in J.S. Bach's English Suites, as well as the piano music of Chopin and Erik Satie.
Itaipu (1989) is something of a cantata-cum-symphony-cum-oratorio with no clear text. Its topic is the world's largest hydroelectric dam, built on the Rarana River between Paraguay and Brazil, and the piece–in Glass's trademark punctuating minimalism–is filled with distinct South American instrumentation, particularly in the percussion. The music itself is noble, conjuring the human endeavor to build the five-mile-wide dam near the town of Itaipu. The Canyon (1988) is about no canyon in particular but tonally suggests the mystery of canyons in general. Both these compositions are among Glass's better works.