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Philip Glass • Nico Muhly: Violin Concerto etc

Pekka Kuusisto (violin), *Nico Muhly (piano); Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
PTC5186745_Kuusisto

Philip Glass • Nico Muhly
Philip Glass: The Orchard (arr. violin and piano)*; String Quartet No. 3 ‘Mishima’ (arr. string orchestra); Nico Muhly: Shrink
Pekka Kuusisto (violin), *Nico Muhly (piano); Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Pentatone PTC 5186 745   47:51 mins

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Much has been made of Nico Muhly’s connection with Philip Glass, for whom he once worked as an assistant. Entitled First Light, this album’s sensitive pairing of the two composers’ work confirms their similarities but equally demonstrates how Muhly’s voice is very much his own.

Performed here by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (NCO), Shrink – Muhly’s 2019 concerto for violin and string orchestra – sets itself fascinating harmonic parameters as each of the three movements focus on intervals of decreasing size. ‘Ninths’ sees Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto sail across choppy, fragmented melodies. Anxiety gives way to ambivalence in ‘Sixths’, which initially brings a slower pace and quieter texture, developing into the quasi-cadenza that opens ‘Turns’, a twitchy movement based around unisons and fourths. Kuusisto, a long-time collaborator of Muhly’s and the work’s dedicatee, is faultless in this premiere recording.

Few living composers have seen as many arrangements of their work as Glass, who seems supportive of new iterations, having created several of them himself. His 1985 film score for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters contrasts string quartet sections (originally performed by the Kronos Quartet) with full orchestra; Glass subsequently plucked out the chamber parts to create String Quartet No. 3 (which has since been arranged for saxophone). Kuusisto continues the tradition with his new arrangement for string orchestra, expertly performed by the NCO.

The Orchard, a movement from Glass’s incidental music for The Screens, was recorded in 2020 across continents (not that you’d know it); Muhly in New York, Kuusisto in Helsinki – an effective stitch in time.

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Claire Jackson