The Glass Effect
Lavinia Meijer’s debut recording of Glass’s music (Channel Classics, 3/13) was a rather underwhelming experience. Consisting mainly of the dark Metamorphosis cycle and even gloomier suite from the soundtrack to The Hours, the recording lacked edge despite the evident musicality of Meijer’s performances.
Four years later and the bar is raised much higher. Glass’s set of 20 Études represents some of the composer’s most challenging music for piano. Meijer’s decision to tackle 10 of them (five each from Books 1 and 2) on harp alone deserves credit; but in perfectly shaping each étude to the nuances and dynamics of the instrument itself, Meijer has produced an extraordinary recording.
Glass’s music is essentially tonal but a lot of the chord sequences shift gear up or down a semitone. Easy enough on the piano but exceedingly tricky to execute on the harp without an unsolicited snap or buzz from one of the pedals. You wouldn’t know it from listening to Meijer, however. From the crystal-clear articulation of Étude No 1, which announces its arrival powerfully with an opening four-chord statement, to the deafening stillness which greets the end of No 20, Meijer does not put a foot (or hand, for that matter) wrong.
Much of her brilliant playing, aided by an excellent sound recording, is also transferred to the music of the five composers contained on the second disc. Bryce Dessner’s three-movement Suite is étude-like, culminating in a highly atmospheric study in sixths. Having worked as Glass’s assistant for many years, Nico Muhly is the more likely recipient of ‘The Glass Effect’ but the influence is found more in the younger composer’s use of block chords or three-against-two pulses of A Hudson Cycle than in Quiet Music. The delicate, understated beauty of Ólafur Arnalds’s Tomorrow’s Song works exceptionally well here, too. My only gripe is with the techno-style remix of the main theme from Glass’s music to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, ‘Lift Off’, which rounds off the disc and whose title made me wonder whether Meijer was indeed aware of the striking way in which Glass’s theme is used at the very end of this film.