Philip Glass

Philip Glass: Songs from the Trilogy

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Philip Glass' 1987 album Songs from the Trilogy is made up of brief selections from his three portrait operas, Einstein on the Beach (1976), Satyagraha (1980), and Akhnaten (1983). It gives a good idea of what the music from the operas sounds like, but at the same time it misrepresents what the music is actually about. In developing his "music with repetitive structures" (the description he preferred over "minimalism"), Glass was creating a new kind of experience, one in which the traditional temporal expectations of a piece of music are overturned, where changes happen incrementally and very slowly over a long (sometimes a very long) span of time. A common response to his work, particularly his earlier pieces, including Einstein, was boredom followed by a visceral jolt when the listener was suddenly hit by the power of the gradually evolving changes. The snippets on this album convey the sound of Glass' music, but their brevity rules out the possibility of their having the impact the composer intended. "Trial-Prison" from Einstein on the Beach, for instance, is cut from 18 minutes to three, and most of the excerpts from Satyagraha and Akhnaten suffer a same fate, shortened to a third to a half of their original length. Still, the album is not without its merits. The gripping performances are by the Philip Glass Ensemble in Einstein, and in the case of Satyagraha and Akhnaten, taken from the original cast albums. Tenor Douglas Perry is a standout in the role of Gandhi in Satyagraha; his tone is sweet and fresh and his delivery achingly poignant. Soprano Iris Hiskey's crystalline, wordless vocalise in "Bed" from Einstein is eerily mesmerizing. In all the operas, Sony's sound is exemplary. The album may not offer much of a real sense of what the operas are like, but if it whets listeners' appetites to seek out the complete recordings it will have served a worthy purpose.

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