Glass: Itaipu; The Canyon

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Itaipu; The Canyon
PERFORMER: Atlanta SO & Chorus/Robert Shaw
Glass’s orchestral pieces of the late Eighties seem stuck in a rut. The 1987 Violin Concerto plays straight into the hands of the composer’s sternest critics, with its unmemorable material, stodgy and obvious three-movement structure and uninspired writing for both soloist and orchestra. Neither is Schnittke’s Fifth Concerto Grosso among his more striking works, though it interestingly makes few of the expected references to previous music.


Glass’s The Canyon – the third in a series of ‘portraits of nature’ of which Itaipu is the second – evokes ‘an idealised canyon of the imagination’, but sadly lapses for the most part into the banalities familiar from The Light, the first piece in this series, heard in London six years ago. Itaipu, for chorus and orchestra, on the other hand (written, like The Canyon, in 1988), shows Glass at his compelling best. A tribute to the huge South American dam of that name and its natural surroundings, this has a Guarani Indian text that inspires some typically impressive choral writing as well as imaginative use of a large orchestra. There is also a more adventurous approach to harmony, and a splendidly sustained climax in Part 3. All the performances on these discs seem accurate and especially vivid. Keith Potter