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Víkingur Ólafsson: Philip Glass – Piano Works

C. Michael Bailey By

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Captain Obvious once said, "The appeal of Philip Glass' music is its simplicity." The minimalist school, which includes Glass, as well as La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, produces music that uses limited or minimal musical materials, or as defined by composer Tom Johnson, as ..."any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whiskey glasses." The results of this approach are highly accessible and enjoyable music characterized by repeating motifs express with differing dynamics (tempos, volumes, momentums).

Minimalism ceased being a "loft music" long ago. Glass' piano music has been the subject of several notable surveys, including: Jeroen Van Veen's clinically rendered Philip Glass-Solo-Piano Music (Brilliant Classics, 2013); Nicolas Horvath's expansive Glassworlds (Grand Piano, Five Volumes) and the composer's own recordings (Solo Piano (Sony Classical, 1989). Enough of Glass' piano music has been recorded that performances can ably be contrasted and compared.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson recently participated in a performance of Glass' complete set of 20 Études presented by four other pianists, including the composer himself. According to Pwyll ap Siôn in Gramophone, "Ólafsson's performances stood out for their rare combination of sheer technical brilliance, expressive control and interpretative depth," a surveillance I can only echo if Ólafsson's Philip Glass—Piano Works is any indication. Ólafsson's performances of selected etudes and the opening of "Glassworks" are crystalline and pristine. The pianist readily draws from Glass' spare scores faint whispers of piano history. "Étude No. 9" sports light notes of Scarlatti and Satie while "Étude No. 14" could have been performed by George Gershwin by this hearing. The latter tuneful, with urgent momentum is a revealing hearing of how Glass can as opposed to how he often does sound.

Ólafsson mixes things up by including the Siggi String Quartet on versions of "Glassworks -Opening," and Études Nos. 2 and 5 as reimagined by Christian Badzura. Badzura's arrangements and inclusion of the strings deepens the loam of emotion of the pieces without violating their minimalist bona fides. The effect is quite stunning. Étude Nos. 9 gets a look from Canadian electronica artist CFCF (Michael Silver) that opens additional doors to the consideration of Glass' music.

Track Listing: Opening from ‘Glassworks'; Etude No. 9; Etude No. 2; Piano Etude No. 6; Piano Etude No. 5; Etude No. 14; Etude No. 2 reworked by Christian Badzura; Etude No. 13; Etude No. 15; Etude No. 3; Piano Etude No. 18; Piano Etude No. 20; Opening from ‘Glassworks’ reworked by Christian Badzura; Etude No. 9 reworked by CFCF.

Personnel: Víkingur Ólafsson: piano

Title: Philip Glass – Piano Works | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Deutsche Grammophon


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