Cello Concerto No. 1
Wendy Sutter, cello
Orchestra of the Americas, Dante Anzolini
Orange Mountain Music
Philip Glass has been writing many concerti lately, beginning with his Violin Concerto in the late 80’s. That piece, while it has its limits, is pleasant enough to listen to and has a few really good moments. Glass’ first cello concerto, while admirably performed by Wendy Sutter and the Orchestra of the Americas under Dante Anzolini, is painful for me to listen to. It’s kitchy, cliched, and had this come from anyone other than a famous composer, would likely be dismissed as crap by most people, if they even bothered to listen to it.
Glass has done many great things, particularly in the 70’s and early 80’s, so perhaps it’s unrealistic to assume any composer can keep churning out great works into old age, especially when composing at a prodigious, almost superhuman pace. But then I think of Feldman, whose music only got better with age, and Feldman wrote more than one hundred works, many of which are substantially long, so there goes my hypothesis.
For people who love anything and everything PG writes, this will be a must-have. For others, this will be an “avoid at all costs” album. Seriously-what is it with the “giants” of minimalism these days? I recently heard an album of John Adams, containing his string quartet, and was hesitant to review it since I just couldn’t say anything positive about it. I wouldn’t normally have reviewed this album since, like Glass’s recent opera Kepler that I also thought to review, I’d prefer not to write anything bad regarding another composer’s releases. But Glass just keeps churning them out, even more than Adams, and aside from a few diamonds in the rough, most of the output is underwhelming at best, dreck at worst. This album, to me, is the latter. I am glad Glass evolved and didn’t keep writing Music in Twelve Parts, version 100 or something like that, much as I revere Music in Twelve Parts. None of us want to keep writing the same crap. But in many ways, Glass is writing the same crap, just the crap he’s been writing for the past decade, and it’s getting tiring and very disappointing. As much as I might not have liked WTC 9/11, at least it has some glimmers of engaging writing, and other recent works by Reich have been quite good. I can almost predict that the next release by either Glass or Adams will not be anything that I care to listen to. Their edge is gone, and they’ve become more than conventional, even old-fashioned. There is little in Glass’s cello concerto that couldn’t have passed for acceptable American music had it been written in the 1950’s. That’s sad.
Glass: Piano Etudes (arr. for Steel Drums)
Orange Mountain Music
Of all of Glass’ recent works, the piano etudes are at least pretty good. I have more than one recording of them, and they stand up pretty well. Innovative they aren’t, but at least there are parts that recycle some of Glass’ better harmonies from the past, so they work for me.
This is an interesting recording in that it takes Glass’ Etudes for Piano and arranges them for a steel drum ensemble. I love steel drums. That said, while noble in intent, after becoming very familiar with the original scoring for piano solo, the steel drum version seems jarring. It’s sort of like how Reich’s Violin Phase when arranged for electric guitar (Electric Guitar Phase) becomes more disturbing than necessary since it’s so different from the original scoring. Rescorings can work well, and be very interesting. A scoring of Glass’ etudes might work well for strings, for example. I’m just not convinced steel drums are the way to go for this set of pieces, but I do give NYU Steel high marks for their expert performance and initiative in recording this.