From listening to the Brandenburg Concertos in his father’s record store as a young boy to strict lessons in fugal counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in his mid-twenties, Bach has never been far away from Glass’s musical world view. He recently paid Bach the ultimate compliment, saying: ‘He articulated the language of music in the most complete, rich and complex form that any single person has been able to do.’
While Bach’s influence may not be immediately apparent in early Glass, it can be heard in more recent works such as the sets of Partitas for solo violin and cello. The catalyst was singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, with whom Glass worked on the song-cycle Book of Longing in 2006 (from which ‘The Paris Sky’, included here, is taken). Cohen’s pared-down, epigrammatic and occasionally bleak poetry provided Glass with a new expressive palette, and out poured a series of dark, melancholic works for solo strings that – other than the occasional outburst – inhabit a world suffused with intense solipsistic introspection.
This new style appears to have arrived fully formed, with Glass commenting that he composed the Partitas ‘almost … from memory’. However, there’s a danger of slipping into automatic-pilot mode. Much of what appears in Partita No 2 is modelled on the First, as a brief comparison between the opening section of both final movements will show. Certainly the more interesting moments are found in movements that successfully explore the cello’s range and colouristic potential, such as the fifth in Partita No 1 (with its Für Elise-style D-C sharp-D-C sharp-D figure), and the third in Partita No 2. The first set (subtitled Songs & Poems) remains the most compelling of the two, however.
Cellist Matt Haimovitz’s controlled performance and deep, resonant sound possess plenty of weight and depth but occasionally lack the edgy nervousness and hollowed-out intensity that belong to Wendy Sutter’s brilliant 2008 recording of Partita No 1.
By: Pwyll ap Siôn
Read at: Gramophone