GLASS String Quartets Nos 6 & 7
The New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider have featured Philip Glass as part of their eclectic repertoire since their formation over 10 years ago. This recording of Glass’s String Quartets Nos 6 and 7 follows on from their 2011 release of the composer’s String Quartets Nos 1 5 (8/11).
The disc actually starts off with the quartet’s own arrangement of Glass’s Saxophone Quartet (1995). Set out in alternating pairs of movements in a slow-fast-slow-fast sequence, the understated first movement gives way to a propulsive, Bartók-like second, frequently punctuated by rhythmic unisons. A similar dancelike atmosphere is conjured up in the final movement, while the introspective third makes particularly effective use of the deeper, resonant timbre of a quartet comprising two violas rather than the usual two violins.
If the Saxophone Quartet represents easy-listening Glass, his String Quartet No 6 (2013) lies at the opposite end. Set out this time in three movements, the Sixth draws from Spuren der Verirrten (‘The Lost’), Glass’s large-scale multimedia opera for Linz Opera written around the same time. Texturally dense, full of abrupt contrasts and edgy harmonies, the first movement builds up to a series of dissonant chordal statements that carry echoes of the ‘Es muss sein’ moment from the finale of Beethoven’s Op 135 String Quartet. These sharp juxtapositions prevent the music from ever fully settling, although the ending does offer a resolution.
The String Quartet No 7 (2014) is in many respects the most interesting work on display here. Unlike Glass’s other quartets, the seventh unfolds in a single 17-minute span, wherein both simple/complex and more introverted/extrovert elements of the composer’s musical character are explored. It’s a work that demands further listening, which is perhaps not always the case with Glass.