The 2006 album, Philip Glass Ensemble Live in Monterey Mexico, is reissued here under the somewhat misleading title The Philip Glass Ensemble: A Retrospective; this is, after all, the record of a single concert, not a compilation of tracks from the group's more than 40-year history, as the new title implies. The personnel for this 2004 concert is made up of old and new members, the longest-serving being the composer himself and woodwind player Jon Gibson from the original ensemble, established in 1969, along with saxophonist Richard Peck, who joined in 1971; keyboardist, director, and all-around polymath Michael Riesman, who came onboard in 1974; and live sound mixer Dan Dryden from 1983. Vocalist Lisa Bielawa and woodwind player Andrew Sterman are relative newcomers from 1992, and percussionist and keyboardist Mick Rossi and on-stage audio engineer Stephen Erb had just joined in 2004.
The two-disc set includes a representative sample of music Glass wrote for his ensemble relatively early in his career, plus several arrangements by Riesman of works originally scored for larger forces, with two movements from Music in Twelve Parts from 1971-1974 the earliest piece represented, and the most recent the arrangement of a movement from the 1992 Low Symphony. The CD gives an excellent idea of what to expect at a concert by the Philip Glass Ensemble -- a wide variety of Glass' work, played with characteristic energy and precision. Special kudos go to Bielawa, whose voice holds up beautifully, as fresh at the end of the concert as at the beginning in spite of the outrageously demanding workout she is given. The CD ends, as do many concerts by the Philip Glass Ensemble, with an exhilarating, hair-raising account of "Spaceship" from Einstein on the Beach. The sound is a little on the dense side, but not enough to be a serious problem.