INKPOT — Phillip Glass – Violin Concerto, Company, Prelude and Dance to Ahhnaten – NAXOS
Violin Concerto, Prelude and Dance from Akhanten, Company
by Jon Yungkans
For those who would consider an evening of Philip Glass (right) the equivalent of death, this disc opens with a piece on that very subject. Company, which Glass wrote in 1983 to accompany a prose meditation on death by playwright Samuel Beckett, can be performed by a string quartet (it is otherwise known as Glass second string quartet) or, as on this disc, by a string orchestra. Both versions are effective but the orchestral version gains a welcome lushness and heft that a string quartet cannot match. Philip Glass, lush-sounding? Yes, welcomingly so, and considerably more emotive than his reputation as the noodle-and-doodle king would seem to suggest. By the time he wrote Company, Glass had gotten to the point that he could express an amazing amount with very little material. Yes, he was still repetitive and minimalistic, but now all the notes started adding up to something very important. Takuo Yusua and the Ulster orchestra have an excellent feel for this music not afraid to let it brood, dance and soar.
The same could be said for the Violin Concerto, to me one of Glass’ most momentous works to date. For its small size this work packs a huge dramatic and emotive wallop. It is not only passionate but Romantically so. This performance is a revelation. Gidon Kremer and Robert McDuffle emphasized the sheer drive of this music. Its not a bad approach to follow but can seem two-dimensional with repeated listening. Adele Anthony brings an alluring, mysterious quality to this music something dangerously seductive and exciting without being driven in the least. This piece has never sounded so sexy, even erotic and coital. The act of sex has never sounded this good.
Moving from the bedchamber to the throne room, the Prelude and Dance from Akhnaten (an opera that was in some ways more a breakthrough work for Glass than Einstein on the Beach) sounds a more pensive, meditative note. The drama here unfolds more gradually, the tension ratcheted up more subtly. Here I missed the words that normally accompany the music (or could it be my penchant for language that occasionally spills over into wordiness in some of my reviews?). Even without them, the prelude takes on an incantatory quality in Yusuas (left) hands, weaving its spell with an inexorable, hypnotic power and an underlying darkness that really gets under your skin after a while. The Dance opens on an even more unsettling note. It is not a change in tone but an accentuation of the prevailing mood of impending tragedy and a continuing build-up of stress and dread, ending the disc on a somber and portentous note.
A must-have as a welcome introduction to Glass music as well as for aficionados of that composers works.