Dennis Russell Davies / Maki Namekawa

Philip Glass: Piano Music

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The organizers of the Ruhr Piano Festival claim that it is the largest event of its kind in the world, and it might very well be; held in the summer, the Ruhr awards a prize and provides family concerts, master classes, honors great piano schools throughout the world, and hosts performances of whole cycles of piano literature. At the 2002 festival, American contemporary composers were honored and piano music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Earle Brown, John Cage, and Terry Riley was performed. This Orange Mountain Music release represents a Ruhr Piano Festival concert from a return visit by Glass on July 7, 2008, and this time he came equipped with a wholly new work, the Four Movements for Two Pianos, written for the piano team of Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies. Davies, of course, is already well regarded as an effective conductor of Glass' music, but his duo with Namekawa is an independent enterprise formed in Germany in 2003. It was Namekawa who coordinated commissioning Glass for this work on the festival's behalf. The Four Movements for Two Pianos is one of the most satisfying purely instrumental works that Glass has produced in quite some time; when the work was premiered somewhat later in New York, a critic commented that it seemed like for the first three movements that Glass was trolling around in the styles of other composers. On the contrary, the whole seems like Glass airing out his own preferences; for once, here was a commission where there was no pressure to make the music responsive to external needs, such as in a film score, opera, or other project that requires illustration of a thematic concept. Moreover, while the use of multiple keyboards serves as a fulcrum for Glass in pieces from his entire career, he hasn't written specifically for two pianos since 1967's In Again Out Again, and the two-piano format is both a flexible and forgiving one to work in for a composer. The sense of freewheeling fun Glass may have enjoyed in writing this piece well carries over into the finished result, or at least it sounds that way.

The disc is filled out with solo piano performances. Dennis Russell Davies performs the first six of Glass' etudes, which he began in 1994. Namekawa finishes off the program with three cues from the 2002 film The Hours as arranged for solo piano by Michael Riesman. OMM's recording is of excellent quality, particularly when one considers that this is a live recital; applause appears at the end of tracks, but it is not terribly invasive. All in all this serves as an excellent summary of Glass' piano music in the twenty first century, and the minor-key Four Movements for Two Pianos has an autumn-like, gently menacing character that makes it especially tasty. Likewise, Namekawa and Davies are a terrific piano duo, with a unified sound working toward a central goal that is cohesive and in no way competitive.

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