Ralf Gothóni

Philip Glass: The Concerto Project, Vol. 2

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Philip Glass has always been canny about finding venues for his music, and this has helped him realize large-scale projects like his operas of the 1970s and 1980s. In the years since then, even if he has not made something personal about his minimalist language in the way that his contemporary Steve Reich has, he has realized that his style can be inflected back in the direction of traditional classical forms and made to suit most any occasion. The two keyboard concertos recorded here provide pleasing examples. Neither one is a concerto in the usual sense, with the soloist defining an independent identity. Instead the keyboardists in both works generally provide Glass' trademark pulse, and in the outer movements they rarely get a rest. In the Piano Concerto No. 2, After Lewis and Clark, the most effective movement is the central "Sacagawea," evoking the Shoshone woman, pictured on the U.S. dollar coin, who saved the bacon of the two explorers. The movement is constructed around two flute themes, one of them of Shoshone origin, played here by renowned Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai; they add something of the element of reverence that made Glass' film score Koyaanisquaatsi so successful. In the Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra Glass skillfully exploits the surface similarities between Baroque motor rhythms and his own basic procedures, using bits of jazz syncopation and some quasi-improvisatory passages, all in all creating a joyous, kinetic foot-tapper. Harpsichordist Jillon Stoppels Dupree gets into the enthusiastic spirit of the work, and conductor Ralf Gothóni, leading the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, keeps the energy level up without overwhelming the harpsichord -- an aspect of the work that apparently gave Glass problems as the premiere performance (featuring these same forces) took shape. Listeners who have enjoyed hearing their local orchestras undertake one of Glass' growing catalog of symphonies would do well to try this variation on a theme.

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