Dennis Russell Davies

Philip Glass: Symphony No. 1 "Low"

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It might be a surprise that the music of Philip Glass has generally spread farther beyond the U.S. than those of the other first-wave minimalists: Steve Reich in particular seemed more congenial to those of an avant-garde frame of mind. But the sheer innovative spirit of Glass' music, its tendency to define its own sound worlds, seems to have carried it confidently into its second half-century, and Glass champion Dennis Russell Davies, now conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, has had little trouble turning it into an ensemble versed in Glass' ways. The Symphony No. 1 ("Low") is so called because it is based on David Bowie's album of the same name; the British composer and producer Brian Eno had a hand in the album and is also credited in the subtitle of Glass' work. (The second movement, "Some Are," is not a track from the original Bowie album but was recorded at the same time and eventually issued as a bonus track; Bowie later incorporated this movement in turn on the album All Saints) This was Glass' first symphony, and it's almost as if using popular tunes, albeit rather minimalist ones, allowed him to make the leap to full-scale orchestral dimensions; it stretched his musical language slightly. In so doing, the work built bridges between the popular and concert spheres that by now are commonplace, but were not so in 1992, when the piece was composed. This is only the second recording of the Symphony No. 1. The first was also conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, but this version, under the supervision of Glass' own Orange Mountain Music label, is closer to the state of the art. Recommended for Glass fans.

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