When I saw this album I was ecstatic to find that Philip Glass had doubled his oeuvre of etudes for piano. I love the music and was quite taken by his own recording of the first set a decade or so ago. Glass is not a virtuoso pianist and it sometimes showed in his own performances, but he played so with such passion that it was almost like listening to Alfred Cortot or Arthur Schnabel, with their poetic insights shining through despite technical flubs. Etudes 5 and 6 especially shone as the emotional heart of the set, the former plaintive and wistful, the latter contrastingly tense, dramatic, pulsing. These were the first etudes i listened to on this new recording, to see how Maki Namekawa compares in her approach to this music.
Unfortunately, while I was impressed by her technique over Glass' own, her interpretations fell a little short for me in these pieces. Her fifth is much slower and a bit quieter, at points so much so that it almost falls apart. The intensity in Glass' playing is gone in favor of a more pensive and somber atmosphere. Etude six also varies greatly between artists. Glass' take is dramatic, intense, and played with looser tempo. Namekawa plays the repeated notes without pedal, producing a drier, more precise and toccata-like sound. I will commend her on the clarity and the greater difference between loud and soft that she achieves, which are superior to the composer's own playing. That said, I still prefer Glass himself here. Looking elsewhere in the set, however, I find places where Namekawa shines. I prefer her more dreamlike atmosphere in the second etude and her more noble and articulated eighth etude.
The second set of etudes has no standard for comparison on record and I find myself more able to listen more for the music than the interpretation. Etude 1 opens the set confidently with some thunderous turbulence, etude 2 brings us familiar Glassian arpeggios over a motoric, syncopated bass that at one point sounds like Khachaturian's Sabre Dance is about to let loose. Scales are the name of the game in number 3, ascending thunderously in the left hand, crashing down in the right, all interspersed with lighter toccata-like broken chords. The fourth etude is the first of the set to exhibit a subdued, nocturne-like character, almost Chopinesque. Number 5 erupts sonorously and remains forte throughout with unbroken chords in the right hand, the height of grandeur. The sixth is more delicate with pearly figurations in the right hand over the repeating patterns of the left, building gradually to its chordal climax. The set continues to impress, until the final etude. As I listened to this mysterious piece, I was astonished by how un-Glassian it sounded, as if I had listened past the end of the album into another from a different composer. Gradually in the latter half we hear moments of Glass' trademark repeated broken chords, but again they vanish. The mood is introspective and contemplative, a Scriabin-esque sognando atmosphere. I must admit that I'm generally puzzled by the piece but nevertheless find it to be perhaps the most gripping of the set.
Overall I am very pleased with this set. In the first set I prefer Glass more often than not. However, I do not regret that Namekawa rather than the composer himself was the first to record the second set. For the most part the second set is more difficult technically and I'm not sure Glass' somewhat less refined technique would have been up to the task for some etudes, especially at the age of 77. The more complex nature of the second set also lends itself more to Namekawa's impeccable clarity. She is not the emotionless drone the some others accuse her of being; rather, she is just a bit more restrained and precise -- which works better in some places. I hope more pianists eventually record these etudes so that we can hear more combinations of player temperament with the music, but for now I find this recording to be a completely worthwhile foray into this new repertoire.
These recordings may change your opinion of Philip Glass. Similar to its format cousin, theme-and-variation -- which deals with rhythmic variations, permutations, and deconstructions -- etudes provide the exploration of thematic patterns and harmonies, putting compositional ideas to the test. Studies are a stage in the creation of a sculpture and painting and also in music. It is a part of the practice and craft. A long series of piano works over decades, as Beethoven's sonatas, gives the audience a greater appreciation of the composer, because they are more private, deeper, and complex, and offers insight to the artist's personal development. Thus, while already a fan of Philip Glass, these two books of etudes, 20 in all, have increased my regard for his art. These are powerful statements, the better developed experiments. The first ten, composed in the 1990s, are more inventive, more playful, and their intent was toward technique. No.2 is exceeding different than the expected propulsive forcefulness, having instead romantic snowflake gentleness, and No. 4 is suggestive of a popular song. In contrast, Book 2, also of 10 etudes and which were composed within the past decade as late as 2012, is more meditative (No.4 and its mantra phrasing), darker and grave (No. 8), intense (No. 7), and yearning. An etude may lead to a concerto, ballet, or film score. No. 10 of Book 2, went the other way, being derived from Glass's film score to Vistors. The pianist for this splendid album is Maki Namekawa, who is experienced in other Glass works, including premieres and particularly of these Complete Etudes. Her expertise is telling. Taken together, these diverse studies show Glass's trademark minimalism and arpeggio pulses in a new light.
I've been listening to Philip Glass for half a century and bought most of his early music on vinyl. Those days are past me now . . . who needs the preciousness of fragile records? But recently I thought to catch up with what Glass is doing, and this pair of suites is particularly important to me, so I thought it was time to own them. The recording is immaculate, the physical discs and packaging arrived in perfect shape, and now that i've been able to sit and listen straight through a few times, I'm delighted. Every period of Glass's unique composition is in here somewhere, presented in a kind of abstract that separates the sounds from the subjects of the various operas, concertos, and less familiar structures. Anyone who still appreciates Glass should have it.
First off, you are either a Philip Glass fan or you are not. Haters are gonna hate.
I have been a Glass fan for decades, and this collection of Etudes is magnificent. Think of it like a sketchpad of piano music. Some meander more than others, some feel more complete, and some have themes that are used in other works. Some you will tolerate, some you will enjoy, and some you will fall in love with. It is much easier to listen to than some of his 70s-80s works, but not as easy as soundtracks like The Hours, Truman Show and Powaqqatsi.
For an old school fan, it's a must have for the collection. For the occasional or beginning Glass fan, it's a great album to acquaint yourself with Glass's musical style.
These two discs show Philip Glass to be a genuinely talented and mature composer for the piano. Each Etude is original, melodic, and coherent, with inventive variations and a controlled line. I've never owned other versions of these pieces, but have listened to them. I can say that these discs benefit from a superb pianist, a superb piano (a Bosendorfer), and stellar recorded sound in a first-rate venue (the Musiktheater in Linz, Austria. If you are a Glass fan, or are interested in contemporary piano music, this is an essential purchase.
The pianist plays many of the pieces too quickly, almost like a robot. This is especially noticeable in the original ten... which, if you're used to Mr Glass playing them and leaving natural little nuances and trips in the recording... you will miss
It's great to hear the composer play his own work on the alternative recording. However, enthusiastic as he is, he is not a top-level concert pianist, and I prefer this technically brilliant Namekawa version of the complete set. The recorded sound quality is better too. But I do agree that the interpretation of No 5 in the latter is too slow and the Glass version of it is more satisfying.
I cannot stop listening to this. This has become my go-to CD for the past few weeks since I got this. I never fail to finish the listening experience feeling better - more peaceful, lighter, at rest. It is beautiful and beautifully played. This is my only experience with these etudes so I have no other performances with which to compare them, but they resonate in me and I love them. I am so happy I read a review that caused me to buy them.
This collection has a wide variety of melodies and compositions by Philip Glass. Some melodies he used in other works and it is refreshing to find them here and feel how he owns them and present the melodies in a direct but beautiful way. This is a great addition to a collection of Glass, or even to learn about him for the first time.
I listened to one of Philip Glass' Etudes on Colorado Public Radio and wanted to hear more. This is a fantastic collection: quite melodic but still with the typical repetitive structure. I've been listening for days and will keep at it.