alterego_300.jpgAlter Ego Plays Philip Glass

Music in Similar Motion
Strung Out
Piece in the Shape of a Square
Gradus
Music in Contrary Motion
600 Lines
How Now

Alter Ego:
Manuel Zurria, flute; Paolo Ravaglia, clarinet; Francesco Peverini, violin; Francesco Dillon, cello; Oscar Pizzo, keyboard; Gianluca Ruggeri, marimba
Orange Mountain Music

I’ve always been particularly enamored by Glasss early music, and Two Pages was actually the first work of his that I knew, on an old LP with Glass and Michael Riesman. I still have the old Chatham Square albums of Music with Changing Parts, Music in Similar Motion and Music in Fifths, and once saw a page from an early work involving two flutes back in college (well, maybe that was actually Steve Reich’s Reed Phase, but whatever); I still remember trying to play that fragment to get some sense of what it sounded like.

I had known that the Italian new music ensemble Alter Ego had recorded two separate albums of some of Glasss early music, including How Now and 600 Lines and went crazy trying to track one of these down, as it apparently was only available through the Italian distributor Stradivari.it. Fortunately, a 2-CD set has just been released containing a wealth of Glass’s early music, some of which exists in other recordings (such as Music in Similar Motion, Gradus, Music in Contrary Motion, Strung Out and some of which I have not seen any recordings of (How Now, 600 Lines, Music in the Shape of a Square). The recordings of Music in Contrary Motion and Gradus represent the first recordings of these versions for ensemble or bass clarinet, respectively.

Lets start with a general comment: this album is excellent. The recorded sound is wonderful, the performances are first-rate, and the liner notes, written by Glass himself (including a paragraph from his book Music by Philip Glass), are insightful.

In terms of the individual pieces, being very familiar with Music in Similar Motion and Music in Contrary Motion as performed by Glass’s ensemble, it is interesting to hear a different scoring and interpretation. The latter has always, in my experience, been performed by a solo Farfisa or other electronic organ, while Alter Ego scores it for mallet instruments, keyboards, winds and (from my listening) violin. Its a very different, yet pleasant interpretation and scoring and complements other recordings well.

The same is true for Strung Out, which I originally knew through a recording by Paul Zukofsky. I like this performance very much, and the violin sounds warmer to some degree. Strung Out was one of Glass’s first minimalist works, and was performed by having the score on many pages that were supported by several music stands that the violinist navigates during the piece. The music is literally strung out among the music stands, and as I recall Glass’s own description from years ago, the music also suggests being strung out in the physical/mental sense. Unlike the later Two Pages and other works, there are no additive processes present within Strung Out, but it is repetitive nonetheless.

Gradus has also been recorded, I believe, by Jon Gibson. This version is performed on bass clarinet, while the original was for soprano sax. It is immediately recognizable as Glass, even though a relatively early work. The same could be said for Music in the Shape of a Square for two flutes, which is very rhythmically driving.

The remaining two pieces, How Now and 600 Lines are repetitive but like some works on this album, do not have formal additive processes. Both of these are relatively long (600 Lines takes around 40 minutes), and very compelling. I’d love to also have been able to hear how they would have sounded with Glass’s nacent ensemble, but that is a secondary issue; having these works at all on a great recording is more than enough.

In all, this is a great addition to my iPod,and a nice way to start 2007.

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