Classical CD Reviews
PHILIP GLASS & MICHAEL NYMAN Works for Saxophone Quartet = GLASS: String Quartet No. 3; Sax Quartet; NYMAN: Songs for Tony – sonic.art Sax Quartet – Genuin Classics NYU STEEL Plays PHILIP GLASS – Etudes Nos. 1 – 10 – NYU Steel/Josh Quillen – Orange Mt. Music
Published on August 24, 2012
PHILIP GLASS & MICHAEL NYMAN Works for Saxophone Quartet = GLASS: String Quartet No. 3; Sax Quartet; NYMAN: Songs for Tony – sonic.art Sax Quartet – Genuin Classics GEN 11222, 54:27 ****:
NYU STEEL Plays PHILIP GLASS – Etudes Nos. 1 – 10 – NYU Steel/Josh Quillen – Orange Mt. Music 0075 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
sonic.art is one of the many saxophone quartets in the world today, and they decided from their founding to concentrate on original contemporary works. Like the Kronos String Quartet and some other modern ensembles, they work closely with the composers and make themselves available for experiments along the way. They say, however, that they do have a limit. “Every so often we cannot help but lay down the law…: No, I must ask you not to connect a garden hose to my saxophone.”
The Quartet No. 3 was composer for the film on the Japanese novelist Mishima, and was arranged for the sax quartet by a saxophonist friend of theirs. Working over the years with much minimal music, the quartet concentrates on subtle nuances instead of major gestures, and feels they have moved toward a very slender, clear and transparent tonal ideal suitable to the music of Glass and Nyman. They found Glass’ music especially well suited to saxophones, except for the circular breathing it often requires. While the musicians can do this in live concerts, the sound is evidently too easily picked up my the mics in recording, so they use digital editing techniques. Glass’ Sax Quartet was originally created as a work for four saxes and orchestra, but this is its sax quartet alone version.
Nyman, who was inspired to return to composing after a break from it after hearing a Steve Reich work, is best known for his score to the film The Piano. The second movement of his Songs for Tony is based on music from this soundtrack. While he was working on this quartet he learned of the death of his friend Tony Simmons, and dedicated the work to him. The opening movement is a transcription of a song Nyman had composed to a text written by Mozart and titled “Mozart on Mortality.”
Philip Glass – String Quartet No.3 (Mishima)
01. 1957: Award Montage
02. November 25 – Ichigaya
03. Granmother and Kimitake
04. 1962: Body Building
05. Blood Oath
06. Mishima Closing
Philip Glass – Saxophone Quartet
07. Movement I
08. Movement II
09. Movement III
10. Movement IV
Michael Nyman – Songs for Tony
11. Movement I
12. Movement II
13. Movement III
14. Movement IV
You probably will have to be a fan of both steel drums and Philip Glass to enjoy the second album. This CD certainly provides a unique listening experience. In a way the special timbre of the steel drums seems to have a sparkling and evocative feeling not that different from much of Glass’ music.
The director of the NYU Steinhardt Percussion Program is Jonathan Haas, and he has spent over 20 years arranging music of Glass for percussion ensemble concerts, responding to the students’ shared interest in the music of Glass. He says mastering all these instruments proved far different from anything the students had learned in their music careers and they did a fine job with them.
The steel pan is fairly new instrument. It’s after all just an oil drum which has been hammered and tuned to specific pitches so it can play chromatic scales (but not in consecutive order, so like a cimbalom, they are difficult to learn). So steel pan musicians are immensely skilled, versatile and flexible. The Glass Etudes have not been published as yet, but they are often performed on piano. Haas says his versions are nothing like the originals. It’s the same music but a totally different depiction of it. He compares it restaging a piece of artwork that has the flexibility to assume different guises. He would like to “fortify a worldwide audience for both the steel pan and Philip Glass.”
The ten Etudes are heard out of order—starting with No. 2 and ending with No. 10. Some terrific sounds here. I only wish they were available in hi-res surround.