Philip Glass: Symphony No. 4 "Heroes"

Dennis Russell Davies / Sinfonieorchester Basel

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Philip Glass: Symphony No. 4 "Heroes" Review

by James Manheim

Philip Glass' Symphony No. 4 ("Heroes"), like his Symphony No. 1 ("Low"), was based on an album by David Bowie that had contributions from avant-garde producer and composer Brian Eno. Glass has written of the influence Bowie and Eno exerted on his musical thinking; the fact that his interaction with multi-million-selling rock royalty had resulted in one of his most successful albums might also have played a role in his decision to return to Bowie's music. In any event, for those who liked the Low Symphony, this music draws on a further experimental step forward by Bowie and Eno. In essence its language is similar to that of the earlier work, with Bowie's short, angular themes underlaid by Glass' arpeggiated string figures instead of Eno's electronics. The Glass version has the general texture, if not the harmonic language, of other classical arrangements of rock music, and it might actually be easier on the ears for listeners new to both Glass and Bowie than the original Bowie album. Bowie has stated his admiration for the work, especially for the dark "Neuköln" movement, which comes off especially well in Glass' hands. Conductor Dennis Russell Davies has recorded this work once before, with the American Composers Orchestra; this new reading on Glass' own Orange Mountain Music label is acoustically superior.

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