Glass: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Glass
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559202
The way in which Philip Glass has seemingly gravitated to the role of symphonist over the years is perhaps heartening to many listeners but faintly odd to others. The original Nonesuch issues of these two compositions, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, hedged their bets by coupling the works with everything but the kitchen sink: the two discs in question also encompass a saxophone project, some theatre pieces and other orchestral works including The Light, to my mind the composer’s most exciting (and most frequently overlooked) orchestral composition. My guess is that the prevailing record company thinking was that the composer’s audience at that time may have baulked at buying a disc with two whole symphonies on it. This sounds plausible enough, given Glass’s ability to attract many listeners with no interest in traditional classical music. Now we have a more conventional two-symphony package at a highly attractive price. No. 3 is a chamber symphony for string orchestra, its thematic integrity carefully delineated, while No. 2 is for full orchestra, all grand gesture and structural ambition. While I remain loyal to the earlier versions for their gloriously in-your-face interpretations and punchy sound, it’s clear that Marin Alsop has her own ideas which are equally valid and well worth hearing. Her Glass is assured, almost relaxed when the score permits, occasionally laconic and shot through with a lightness of spirit which is extremely uplifting. The sound is a little too warm and fluffy for my taste, but this is more than offset by the spatial precision of the recording. Roger Thomas

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