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Philip Glass: Glassworks

Nenad Georgievski By

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In composer Philip Glass' storied career, Glassworks ranks among his best known and most beloved releases. Published at the start of the '80s it also signaled the more refined style characterized by a more refined intensity than the rough dynamic rush of his swirling melodies executed at breakneck speed. The decade before was characterized by long and loud pieces augmented by the bright edged sounds achieved on keyboards that in turn gave that fierce energy for which his early ensembles were known for.

When he was exclusively signed to CBS Masterworks in 1981, (Sony Classical as is known now) the label asked him to compose a collection of shorter pieces with which it would introduce his music to a more general audience. By the mid '70s there were no indications of the dramatic leap in scope and substance that his music would take with the various productions of Einstein on the Beach (Nonesuch, 1976). His soundtrack for North Star (EMI Gold Imports, 1977) appeared in the rock bins at record stores and some of it was even aired on the more adventurous rock stations at the time and these signaled a change of status. Glass already had a celebrity status when he signed this contract with CBS which was an accolade that was previously given to two towering composers of the 20th century: Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. The result of that was Glassworks consisting of six short but varied compositions.

"Opening" is one of his best known and most poignant compositions, and the effect of this brilliant piece of work is immediate, lyrical, emotionally engaged and somewhat intimate. Pianist Michael Riesman's piano drops sparkling notes with icy clarity. It's a characteristically repetitive pattern with simple harmonies, but the effect is melodic, mesmerizing and hypnotic. "Floe" is a full frontal attack of swirling repetitive melodies on electric organ that at moments can sound like testing the boundaries of one's nervous system. But typically, Glass builds this composition by adding or taking away various layers from the music. "Island" is a quiet piece that seems to be flowing like a river with its long melodies over a mid tempo repetitive patterns that serve as a rhythm far in the background. There is an easy harmonic motion that builds up a kind of quiet intensity where the music just seems to keep going without any dramatic resolution.

"Rubric" is another avalanche of hypnotic melodies where the whole ensemble is firing up on all cylinders. It even outpaces "Floe" with its rushing tempos, but these two compositions are the climaxes of this record. Actually these are prime examples of maximum minimalism, if this term could ever be employed. "Closing" is an orchestrated variant of "Opening" and it's lyrical, exciting and gentle.

By re-releasing this item on vinyl, Music on Vinyl has brought to life a record of immeasurable importance. Glassworks sums up all of Glass' talents and traits as a composer in one place as his fingerprints are all over every cue. The vinyl reissue is flawless and hearing it for the first time on vinyl it is evident that there is a greater expansiveness to the sound on the record. It is a masterpiece that manages to overflow with emotions where it is obvious that this medium deals better with the music's peaks and valleys than a CD. While many other records in Glass' oeuvre have received critical praises more than this one, Glassworks is still his best selling record to date. During the first year when it was released it sold over 250, 000 copies which was unheard of for any contemporary classical composer. Simply put, this record is a testament to his distinctive genius.

Track Listing: Opening; Floe; Islands; Rubric; Facades;Closing.

Personnel: Michael Riesman: piano, electric organ, bass synthesizer; Jack Kripl: piccolo, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Philip Glass: electric organ; Jon Gibson: soprano sax; Richard Peck: tenor sax; Sharon Moe: French horn; Larry Wechsler: French horn; Violas: Linda Mass; Lois Martin; Julian Barber, Al Brown, Maureen Gallagher; Cellos: Seymore Barab, John Abramowitz, Fred Zlatkin

Title: Glassworks | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Music On Vinyl

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