GLASS Complete Piano Etudes
The Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen rarely does things by half measures. His nine-disc ‘Minimal Collection’ (Brilliant Classics, 2009) remains one of the most authoritative surveys of piano music in this genre. More recently, his recording of Simeon ten Holt’s epic multi-piano post-minimal classic Canto ostinato (Brilliant Classics, 2014) clocked in at just under four hours.
This time the focus is on Glass’s complete set of 20 Piano Études. Van Veen is quite brilliant in the quirky fourth and his reading of the exquisite, valedictory 20th is excellent. He also manages to capture the dark menacing character of the 11th while imparting an appropriate sense of grandeur to the processional 15th.
Elsewhere, however, the numbers don’t add up. (Indeed, neither do the numbers add up in the case of Glass’s date of birth, which is given in two places as 1968.) In general, van Veen’s tempos are too slow. The warning signs are already there in the second Étude, but it is more problematic in the seventh, which lacks fluency, and the ninth, which lacks energy. In comparison, Vikingur Ólafsson’s animated ninth (DG, 4/17) is over a minute shorter. To be sure, Ólafsson’s general control of tempo in the Études is fast but even Maki Namekawa’s altogether more cautious approach (Orange Mountain, 2/15) ensures that the music’s general shape and flow is maintained, such as in her fine performance of the 12th. The only exception is van Veen’s reading of the 18th, which, if anything, is too fast.
In other respects, van Veen plays things very much by the book, fastidiously observing slurs, phrasing and pedalling; but while his literal interpretation of the ‘dots on the page’ may render many of these performances accurate, the music often fails to spring fully into life.