The sleeve notes say Glass was chatting to someone who lamented America’s lack of history, so Glass set about creating one, lacing together his native culture and its legends. Thus were born the works on this excellent CD.
The opening piece is “his most challenging piece to date,” Concerto for Piano No.2, After Lewis and Clark, named for the two explorers who first blazed a trail from one coast to the other (and wrote a very good book). To commemorate their vision, Glass creates a dramatic rollercoaster piece of music (sounding fearsomely hard to play). It captures both the danger of exploration but also a feel for what was at the end of their journey — the ocean.
Three Pieces from Appomattox is from an opera, recording the end of the American Civil War. Fittingly, it’s a sombre piece, evoking darkness and doom.
Wichita Vortex Sutra is a study composed with poet Allen Ginsberg, and comes as two versions, without poem and with. Without, it’s a rich and quietly glorious piece, with it’s about the same, the poetry read at a low level as part of the music. Sutra means thread in Sanskrit and this piece (again sounding hard to play) swells then quietens in a continuous thread.
Fans of electronic music might find an entry point into this album with Music In Contrary Motion with a mesmerising repetition so rapid and intricate it sounds synthesised.
It’s a superb CD, achieving the rare feat of being profound and moving while being easy to listen to. The fact that he is writing about modern history makes it easier to imagine the themes — Westerns featuring trails being blazed are common, and popular films such as The Good The Bad and The Ugly capture well the horror and pointlessness of the Civil War.
The pianist Nicolas Horvath is outstanding; he is apparently noted for hosting concerts of unusual length, sometimes lasting over 12 hours, such as an overnight performance of the complete piano music of Erik Satie. In 2019 he performed alongside Philip Glass in a programme devoted to the American composer’s piano music.
This is out now on Grand Piano, GP817.
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