GLASS Symphony No 2; Saxophone Concerto; Orphée Interlude
Philip Glass is not a symphonist in the conventional sense, but then nor was Messiaen. Glass himself has indicated that his large-scale orchestral works are conceived with their probable role in the conventions of concert programming (and, presumably, recording) in mind. This sounds outrageously manipulative when stated explicitly, but is of course no more than a description of the context of the symphonic form since its inception, which conveniently returns us to square one.
Glass has also said that he devoted his earlier career to subtracting elements from his music and is now deciding what to put back in. In the case of this symphony, the specified element is polytonality, the presence of which in much twentieth-century music (Glass cites Honegger, Milhaud and Villa-Lobos in his booklet-note) is perhaps taken for granted. However, when it is added into this stripped-down, austere idiom, the results are quite striking. The opening movement recalls the prelude to Akhnaten, the third and final movement reprises the chattering arpeggios of the composer’s earlier works, closing with an exciting – indeed, viscera-loosening – crescendo. The overall result is effective, but my instinctive response is to refer listeners to these ideas in their earlier forms.
After recovering during the snippet from Orphee, we come to the marvellous Concerto. Conceived for performance either as a quartet or in this quartet-plus-orchestra version, this is a gloriously animated work, almost Coplandesque, yet remaining true to Glass’s own vision. Despite being presented as the secondary work on this disc, its presence makes the whole recommendable.'