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.
This elegantly packaged 10 disc retrospective surveys four decades of work by Philip Glass, from his earliest solo pieces to his world-renowned operas to his Oscar-nominated film scores. In music, words and pictures, it traces the evolution, as critic Tim Page puts it in his liner notes essay, of 'the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music-simultaneously.' The long-awaited release of this set follows this past spring's triumphal new staging of Glass's 1980 Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera House.
A collaboration between an avant-garde modern classical composer and a traditional Indian/Hindi composer/performer seems as unlikely as ice hockey on the River Styx. However, Passages is a collaboration between Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar and it works quite well. Shankar's smooth style fits nicely with Glass' dissonant orchestrations. There is a great deal of technical data involved here. Both of these artists have long taken intellectual approaches to music. Thus, the liner notes are a bit heavy-handed. The music is brilliant. The symphony dominates the soundscapes, but Shankar's atmospheres are integral to the success of this project.
The works in this programme demonstrate Philip Glass’s perpetual goal of connecting with his audience. Taking shape as something like a hidden sonata form, Mad Rush contrasts peaceful atmosphere with tempestuousness and mesmerizing beauty. The last of its kind in Glass’s oeuvre, 600 Lines, here receiving its première recording on solo piano, is an obsessive and hypnotically restless toccata that represents the zenith of his experiences while working with Ravi Shankar. These two monumental works are joined by première recordings of the subtly transformed Metamorphosis 2, and Glass’s only transcription in the form of Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence.
The usual stuff is here: arpeggio versus ostinato, ostinato versus arpeggio. And as always, the Philip Glass Ensemble's synthesizers double their woodwinds. But Glassworks is the most pleasant craftwork ever from the great minimalist exploiter – six warm pieces that approach the spirit of minimalist pioneer Erik Satie. Only instead of Satie's lyrical-to-antic jumps, Glass creates the ruminative-to-excitable kind. "Opening"'s softly rolled piano melody is music to fold your hands and muse by, and when Sharon Moe's French horn sets up "Floe," everything seems nice and level – until the flailing woodwinds and synthesizers of the ensemble crash in. Glassworks is tuneful in the most pleasingly direct sense – the arrangements define the melodies so cleanly they're instantly memorable.