COMPOSERS: Philip Glass
ALBUM TITLE: Glass
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Sonata; The Hours – excerpts
PERFORMER: Amy Dickson (saxophone), Catherine Milledge (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Mikel Toms
CATALOGUE NO: 88985411942
The Australian soprano saxophonist Amy Dickson’s first dalliance with the motif-driven music of Philip Glass was an arrangement of his Violin Concerto. Like other Glassian arrangers such as harpists Lavinia Meijer and Floraleda Sacchi, Dickson has had to develop bespoke techniques to make the transcriptions successful. While the repetitive patterns in Glass’s writing are challenging for violinists, they are virtually impossible for woodwind – unless you can master circular breathing, as Dickson has.
The saxophonist’s stamina is impressive. Her Concerto is a kaleidoscope of colour; the phrases blend together with mechanical precision. Dickson captures the explosive emotion, particularly in the second movement. Her collaborators, the musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, are on fine form. It is, quite literally, a breath-taking performance.
However, Dickson fans may feel short changed, as the Concerto has appeared on another recording: Glass, Tavener & Nyman (also Sony, 2009). The work is re-released here as part of a collection to mark Glass’s 80th birthday. But fear not, there’s plenty to make this purchase worthwhile, including a new transcription of the Violin Sonata. In this work, Dickson demonstrates the saxophone’s sophisticated versatility; as with the Concerto, this is not just an arrangement, but a work in its own right.
The disc also features two pieces from the soundtrack to The Hours, arranged by Dickson and her husband, composer Jamie Barclay. The saxophone’s plangent tone evokes the original’s mournful anxiety, but Dickson adds an even deeper sense of the unbearable claustrophobia felt by the film’s protagonists.