Glass Meets Bach

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

In some respects Philip Glass’ Third Piano Concerto (scored for pianist and string orchestra) represents “typical” Glass: the repeated phrases assembled like modular shelves, the doodling arpeggios, the static chords intertwined with chromatic lines, and the composer’s sixth sense for judging the right number of times to repeat this or that module, or how to prepare a climax for dramatic effect without being obvious.

The first movement particularly embodies these characteristics. However, in this world premiere recording, pianist Simone Dinnerstein differentiates the repetitions by means of discreetly expressive rubato, as do the members of the ensemble A Far Cry. She also does this in the movement’s opening and closing piano solos, and really allows the dark bass-register writing to resonate. I also appreciate the urgency that both Glass’ music and Dinnerstein’s pianism generate in the rhythmic asymmetry toward the second movement’s conclusion. I’m not certain if the third and final movement’s relatively less eventful long lines and churning chords aim to reflect the music of its dedicatee Arvo Pärt, except perhaps for the piano’s ringing bass notes.

Dinnerstein’s clear and stylish solo work throughout Bach’s G minor concerto receives robust and intelligently calibrated orchestral support, especially in her unforced, genuinely expressive slow movement, where the pianist’s left-hand lines breathe as one with the cellos. On the other hand, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt generate more lightness, conversational interplay, and variety of articulation between the hands in the outer movements, while their respective orchestras boast a higher degree of finesse and phrasing unanimity. The CD’s title, “Circles”, refers to how these musicians rehearsed and performed in (you guessed it) a circle. Not that you can tell by listening…

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Circles: Piano Concertos by Bach + Glass
Reference Recording: Bach: Hewitt (Hyperion); Perahia (Sony)

  • Simone Dinnerstein (piano)
  • A Far Cry

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