New Generations: The Etudes of Philip Glass
Paul Barnes’s interest in Philip Glass dates back to the mid-1990s, when he started performing, recording and arranging the composer’s piano music. At around the same time Glass was working on Book 1 of his Piano Etudes – a project that eventually culminated in 2014 in two books comprising 20 studies. While Glass completed the set, Barnes was actively commissioning and performing new works by predominantly (although not exclusively) American composers, and this ‘new generation’ is represented on the second of this two-disc set.
It makes for an interesting mix of youth and experience. In truth, however, the collection says more about Barnes’s own tastes and interests than about any direct influence these composers received from Glass. Some influence can be found in the music of the younger group. Lucas Floyd’s Piano Thoughts, Vol 2, written last year, consists of five delicately placed piano miniatures, whose understated quality belies an assured technique and confident voice. It would be interesting to hear what he might do with more extended structures. Both Zack Stanton’s Scenic Route and Jonah Gallagher’s Ad infinitum weave effective patterns around oscillating figures and patterns, but one suspects that they have drunk more from the wellspring of John Adams than of Glass. As the most ‘senior’ figure, Ivan Moody stands head and shoulders above the rest with his Fioriture – its arch-like melodic tracery expanding and contracting in increasingly involved transformations and elaborations before circling back again to its point of origin.
One suspects that Barnes’s personal tastes and preferences also determined the choice of Glass’s Etudes on disc 1. The composer is thought to have conceived them in pairs, so while it makes sense for Barnes to combine the brooding, introspective Fifth with the agitated, unpredictable and explosive Sixth, it may have made more sense for him to include No 19 with No 20, rather than No 18, as they both share a common tonality. Although Barnes may not match Maki Namekawa’s impervious interpretation when it comes to the profound Etude No 20 (2/15), his rhythmic playing and technical agility shine throughout, especially in the rhapsodic, almost Lisztian 11th and the inscrutable 16th, with its lilting 3+2+2 rhythms. This disc provides further proof of Barnes’s ability to communicate new music with flair and passion, lavishing as much care and attention on the music of the ‘new generation’ as he does on the minimalist master.