GLASS Dreaming Awake
Bruce Levingston’s close association with Philip Glass over the years has seen him perform duets with the composer and produce solo piano arrangements of Glass’s film music. The pianist’s earlier ‘Nightbreak’ (3/12US) was an imaginative attempt to combine the American minimalist with Liszt, Brahms and Rihm. Yet, while ‘Dreaming Awake’ focuses entirely on Glass, the spectre of 19th-century piano music continues to leave its mark on Levingston’s performances.
Take the opening 10-bar phrase of Étude No 2. There are almost as many tempo changes here as there are measures. The phrase’s subsequent repetition yields further unnecessary pushing and pulling. Rubato is not verboten in Glass any more than it is in Bach or Beethoven, but it can stifle the sense of forward momentum provided by the composer’s trademark repeating cycles and patterns. The music’s very raison d’être is undermined.
Levingston’s adoption of over-cautious tempos results in a dream predisposed towards sleep rather than wakefulness. The lethargic Metamorphosis II and soporific Étude No 5 overstay their welcome. When Levingston allows the music to follow its own course, such as the well-paced Étude No 12 or Wichita Vortex Sutra, with its subtle shifts of colour, the results are far more convincing. The latter, which includes a brilliant reading of excerpts from Allen Ginsberg’s stream-of-consciousness anti-war poem of the same name by Ethan Hawke, is highly recommended. Hawke’s Midwestern accent is more in keeping with the poem’s location than Ginsberg’s earlier version on ‘Hydrogen Jukebox’ (Nonesuch, 1/94).
Levingston’s notes point out that Glass’s Études ‘raised the idea of a mere technical study to a highly expressive art form’. This may well be true; but for these studies to truly work, expression has to be combined with energy, brilliance and flashes of virtuosity. Other than the excellent Wichita Vortex Sutra, Levingston takes a ‘safety first’ option, and the music sometimes struggles to spark into life.