Los Angeles Master Chorale / Grant Gershon

Philip Glass: Itaipu; Three Songs for Choir A Cappella

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This Orange Mountain Music release usefully pairs two recordings of Philip Glass works that appeared in very limited releases. This fine recording of Itaipu (1988) by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon originally came out on the tiny, L.A.-based label RCM; this Orange Mountain Music release re-couples it with a performance of the rarely heard Songs (3) for Chorus a Capella as done by the Crouch End Festival Chorus under David Temple. British label Silva Screen had a short-lived office in the United States for a time and the Crouch End Festival Chorus recording originally appeared on that imprint, Silva America.

Itaipu is one of the most continuous and deliberate works in Philip Glass' catalog, a marvelous edifice inspired by the 50-stories-high, five-miles wide Itaipu Dam located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay; for its 36 minutes, Itaipu rises slowly from the jungle to feverish pitch at the climax and slowly lets the listener down at the end. Often its discmate is The Canyon (also 1988), another Glass orchestral piece that forms the last third, with The Light (1987) as the first, of Glass' "nature portraits" trilogy of which Itaipu serves as the centerpiece. Instead, this Orange Mountain Music release offers the Songs (3) for Chorus a Capella (1985), a Glassian oddity served up for the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian province of Quebec. Set to three Canadian poets -- including Leonard Cohen, who would collaborate later with Glass on Book of Longing (2007) -- this is an odd departure for Glass and is surprisingly straightforward, almost as if you took the choral parts from a work like Itaipu and pulled the orchestral rug out from under it. Recognizable derivation is rare in Glass, though the second setting "Quand les Hommes Vivront d'Amour" has a harmonic progression that sounds unmistakably like the Strawberry Alarm Clock's 1967 hit "Incense and Peppermints." While certainly not the towering force that Itaipu is, that OMM joined one of Glass' most monolithic scores with one of his most modest is an intriguing idea.

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