Víkingur Ólafsson and the Siggi String Quartet perform works by Philip Glass

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COMPOSERS: Glass
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Glass
WORKS: ‘Opening’ from Glassworks (original and arr. Badzura); Etudes Nos 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 15, 18 and 20
PERFORMER: Víkingur Ólafsson (piano); Siggi String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 6918

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Philip Glass started writing his piano etudes in the 1990s, adding to and revising the collection until 2012. He was reportedly drawn to the project for the same reason that many pianists seek out studies – to improve his technical abilities.

In this selection, released to mark Glass’s 80th birthday, the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson captures a sense of reflection and development. Inner voicing is tackled with bravura, and his phrasing is perfection. Ólafsson’s understanding of contrast is also effective – witness his deliciously refined exploration of the extremities of the keyboard in the gently undulating No. 2. The dynamic range and emotional intensity of No. 6 is equally powerful. Throughout this series, motifs are never fragments: the story is more complex than a string of sentences. This is particularly true in No. 20, the last etude, where Ólafsson carefully considers every syntax, emphasis and intended meaning, with spectacular results.

Two versions of ‘Opening’ from Glassworks bookend the etudes. The first is presented in its original form, the final track is a reworking by Christian Badzura. The reimagining is in similar vein to Max Richter’s oeuvre: glorious stringscapes and filmic melodies.

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Claire Jackson