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Philip Glass: Piano Sonata, etc

Maki Namekawa (piano) (Orange Mountain)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Philip Glass
Piano Sonata; Passacaglia for Solo Piano ‘Distant Figure’; Piano Etude No. 20
Maki Namekawa (piano)
Orange Mountain Music OMM 0149   49:13 mins

Glass is often unfairly criticised for his thrifty recycling (the aptly named Metamorphosis series has been reworked multiple times). This is partly attributed to sheer exposure – few contemporary composers are transcribed so often – and the idiom in which Glass writes, which relies on repetition. However, in the accompanying note to his hotly anticipated first piano sonata, the octogenarian writes – surely with a wry smile – ‘This piece is not only original, it’s original for me. I haven’t written this piece before.’

While the Sonata (commissioned by Klavier-Festival Ruhr, Ars Electronica Festival and Philharmonie de Paris) is still clearly Glassian, it explores a greater-than-usual variety of textures and thematic ideas within its three movements. Maki Namekawa, the first pianist to record the composer’s complete Etudes, worked closely with him to understand the thrust of the work – and it shows. Namekawa keeps a tight rein on the almost contrapuntal opening movement, finding playfulness within the precision. As cells divide and multiply, Namekawa brings out a swaggering bass against ever-developing mid-octave melodies. Neat production flatters the performance, particularly in the aerobic third movement.


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Claire Jackson