Gramophone Magazine: Glass’s Naqoyqatsi score reworked as a cello concerto

December 12, 2013

glass Dennis Russel Davies, Basel Symphony Orchestra

Replete with images of war, death, conflict and pain, Naqoyqatsi is arguably the darkest and most disturbing depiction of ‘life out of balance’ in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi film trilogy. Glass’s music remains for the most part detached from the film’s disturbing images, however, acting in the composer’s words more ‘as a doorway into the film’. The original soundtrack featured important solo contributions from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, so it was perhaps unsurprising that Glass should decide to rework the film score’s basic material into a large-scale concerto for the instrument. Individual sections are developed and expanded, and Glass has been careful to select material that relies less heavily on the film’s original images.

The concerto’s seven movements combine and contract moments of subdued reflection with those of high drama, from the loud orchestral interjections of ‘Intensive Time’ to fragile and delicate passages for solo cello in ‘Old World’. Scurrying solo and tutti interchanges are exchanged in ‘Point Blank’ but the final movement, ‘The Vivid Unknown’, ends inconclusively with a passage for cello that is reminiscent of a Bach solo suite in its lyrical expansiveness. Such powerful musical characterization is certainly aided on this recording by the soloist Matt Haimovitz’s intensely sensitive and perfectly poised performance, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s dynamic playing under Dennis Russell Davies packs a powerful punch. At around 40 minutes, the concerto might arguably benefit from a bit of judicious pruning; but, in relation to Glass’s concerto output as a whole, the Cello Concerto No 2 ranks as one of the composer’s most impressive exercises in the medium.

By: Pwyll ap Siôn

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