One of Philip Glass' great achievements aside from his role as a minimalist pioneer has been his successful effort to establish the composer and associated ensemble as a viable musico-economic model. For many years performances of his music usually involved his Philip Glass Ensemble, but this profusion of recordings of his music by independent ensembles is a strong sign of the durability of his reputation. Alter Ego, a group from Italy, here performs a group of early Glass works and generally tries to evoke the heady days when minimalism first came on the scene in New York. If anything, the group exceeds the hypnotic, mechanical yet relaxed precision Glass demanded from his own ensembles in the Music in Similar Motion and Music in Contrary Motion that bookend Disc One. For Glass fans, the chief appeal of this two-disc set may be the presence of several works recorded here for the first time. The two large pieces on disc two, 600 Lines and How Now, are, strange as it may seem to use the term in connection with Glass, teaching pieces: he wrote them in 1968, when the Philip Glass Ensemble was just taking shape, in order to train the group in satisfying what were then very radical demands on classically trained performers -- "besides stamina and sustained concentration," Glass writes in the booklet here, "the ability to play continuously in a relaxed, easy and joyful manner." Despite this pedagogical function, the music was performed in New York and enthusiastically received; Alter Ego replicated the performance in Rome in 1999 with similarly successful results. Most of the music here illustrates a specific aspect of Glass' musical thinking rather than a synthetic realization of his ideas, and as such it will be of the most interest to listeners already fascinated by the composer. For these, however, it may be a must-have.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2