Author Topic: Philip Glass  (Read 29959 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline aukhawk

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 672
  • Frankie
  • Location: England
  • Currently Listening to:
    Bach to Björk
Re: Philip Glass
« Reply #240 on: February 17, 2018, 04:53:00 AM »
New page - bah, I knew it.  :-X

So is Namekawa an upgrade on Glass? She's a more proficient pianist, the recording is better, and the collection includes all 20 Etudes.  So, yes.  But they are very different approaches to the music and it's a matter of taste which you prefer.  Namekawa gives us a fractal landscape of nested loops, more or less a straight transliteration of the score.  Glass takes more liberties with his own music and and in the process humanises it, makes it more, well, musical. 

Continuing the survey of Glass Etudes 1-20 - in approximate order of release date.

Nicolas Horvath achieves the impossible by putting all 20 etudes on one (overstuffed, 83-minute) CD. This he does by a combination of fast tempi and cutting repeats.  I don't see any merit in this, repeats are fundamental to the construction of this music. If you disagree, look for this CD called "Glassworlds, Vol. 2".  Considering also a hint of heavy-handedness and a rather clangerous piano sound, I don't propose to give this too much more consideration.  Not a contender  :(  which is not to say that one or two of the Etudes (No.12 for example) aren't a thrilling wild ride.



Andrew Chubb is also a 1-disc offering, of Book 1 (1-10) only, so the main competition is the composer's own recording.  Classy cover photo by the way!!  :laugh:
I could be wrong, but this looks like a bit of a vanity project.  With this (pure speculation) in mind, it perhaps comes as no surprise that he favours slow tempi, in fact in the three Etudes I sampled (Nos 2,6 and 10) he comes in slowest of everyone in 6 and 10 and also very slow in No.2.  But at these speeds he is comfortable, articulate and clear.
In No.2 to my ears there is a hint of unease about how well the bottom octave is tuned - but that could easily be my brain playing tricks having assimilated the cover art!
He transforms No.6 into something slow and dreamy, and practically comes to a halt at times - not a disaster but just a total contrast to Olafsson or Horvath.  No.10, again he is 50% slower than the composer, and succeeds in turning this usually brutalist Etude into something lyrical (Van Veen does something similar) - I really like this, but I doubt if it's what the composer had in mind.
I don't know what instrument is used, but it's a pretty good recording with very full frequency range, just on the verge of uncomfortably close (the damper actions are clearly audible at times).
Compared with the composer's recording?  This is a much better piano recording, and Chubb certainly has something different to say, but this couldn't be a 1st or only choice.


Bojan Gorisek.  Well now.  This must be the worst piano recording I've ever heard.  >:(  Drenched in bright reverberation, as though recorded in an empty swimming bath.  I should say that Book 2 is a lot better recorded than Book 1 - I think there was over a year's gap between the two projects - but even on its own merits, Book 2 is still problematic - with the reverb dialled back a bit it becomes apparent that someone has left a large brick on the sustain pedal and the pianist hasn't noticed!  The actual pianism - what I can discern of it - is very likeable and up there with the best - but, sorry, this is a disaster.   :(  I include the cover art here only because it makes a nice set of 3 with Chubb and Batagov.
There is I think an album coming of just Book 2 combined with the Metamorphoses - that may be worth investigating if you're interested in Gorisek.


Roger Dretzler.  This is a part-set of 9, so that puts him in competition with Levingston and Olaffson mainly.  He plays Nos.1,2,5,6,9,11,16,17 and 20.  A bit like Chubb, this looks a bit like a one-off project.
In No.2 Dretzler is one of those (Horvath and Gorisek are the other two) who goes for a massive and abrupt change of pace partway through, for no good reason that I can see.  He manages to make it work though. In No.6 he is as quick as Olafsson but nowhere near as precise.
He doesn't play 12 or 19 so instead I'm listening to No.16 as I write this.  He plays this slow and with feeling - almost operatic in places - certainly a more interesting listen than Namekawa who just knocks this one off at some (unvarying, as ever) pace.
OK then - not bad, compared with Chubb he sounds more ambitious but doesn't always pull it off.  Compared with Olafsson he's quite similar in approach but can't compete, compared with Levingston it's a case of extrovert vs introvert.  He's another slightly heavy-handed pianist not helped by the rather bright recording.

Oh dear, this isn't going too well is it?  :-\


Bruce Levingston.  A part-set of 10, he plays Nos.1,2,5,6,9,10,11,12,16 and 17, though not in that order. With some other material, on 2 CDs. To the very great credit of the production team, this is the first set I've surveyed to provide any kind of in-depth sleeve notes commentating on the music.  (Admittedly there are a few which I have only streamed or downloaded and don't have access to any hardcopy or pdf.)
No.2 - Levingston is (according to his sleevenotes) at the 'sensitive' end of the spectrum - he is the slowest of all and by some margin and, well, dreamy.  It works.
No.6 - he tries to match Olafsson's pace, but is palpably uncomfortable, so falls back on 'sensitive' again, introducing rubati whenever his fingers get in a twist.  Doesn't work.
No.12 - one of several pianists who take this one too slow - there should be a bouncing left hand and a hint of syncopation in the right, but at this pace there can be neither.  Namekawa plays this one better than anyone and takes 2m30 less over it - which is admittedly faster than the composer's marking of |=120.
The Steinway is recorded very well though I detect a hint of stress in the loudest passages - good but not in the top rank.  This collection is worth considering at the 'romantic' end of the spectrum - the  polar opposite of Namekawa or Olafsson.

Moving into the 2017 releases ...


Vikingur Olafsson.  A part-set of 10, he plays Nos.2,3,5,6,9,13,14,15,18,20, though not in that order.  Upthread we're told this issue has appeared in 4 'Best of 2017' lists and I'm not at all surprisaed, this is storming pianism and top-notch recording.  Such a shame he hasn't included two of my favourites, Nos 12 and 19.
In No.2 he adopts a medium tempo (midway between Glass and Namekawa) and like the latter goes for 'hypnotic' with absolutely no change of pace at any time.
In No.6 he is quite simply peerless, fast, nimble, accurate.  Check him out on Youtube (where he does stumble a couple of times but even so).
In lieu of No.12 or No.19 I have sampled No.14 which similarly requires a swinging left hand, but it's not his finest hour, uncharacteristically he does use rubato here where Namekawa (slower) maintains discipline.
He is a straight-ahead player, not inclined to rubato, basically an upgrade on Namekawa with more agility, precision, a lighter touch and yet power on tap.  He has a sensitive side too - to finish his set he truly nails the sublime and very lyrical Etude No.20.  I simply can't imagine this music played better than this.
The recording is in the DG tradition going back at least as far as Wilhelm Kempff and via Gilels, Pollini, Pogorelich etc - crystalline in the upper registers - but with the more recent addition of rich bottom-end coverage as well. On balance probably the best recording of this bunch - though having regard to the particular needs of this specific music, see also Batagov below.  And I say all this having only streamed Olafsson through Spotify!  :o


Jeroen Van Veen - this is a bargain-price set of 20 and fully competitive with the best.  And to the great credit of the production team at Brilliant, this is the ONLY set to document the key signatures of each Etude.
In No.2 (A minor) his tempo and general approach is very similar to Namekawa except that he uses far less legato/sustain, favouring a 'dry' delivery.  This is broadly true of No.6 (F minor) as well, though he is nearer the slow end of the spectrum.
No.12 (D minor) by my reckoning he is just about on tempo by the composer's marking - it's not bad but Namekawa taking it a bit quicker makes it work better.  In No.19 (C major) - nearly everyone (Whitwell excepted) adopts the same tempo giusto here, and he is actually more straight-ahead than even Namekawa - this is an excellent version.
The recording of the Yamaha is close and dry which accentuates his non-legato style.  It's all a bit ascetic, Glass in a hair-shirt, the nearest comparison is definitely Namekawa, who I find a bit easier on the ear. (See also Whitwell, below.) If you like the dry style, this is very recommendable, and arguably at the bargain price you can't go wrong if you want an alternative view.


Jenny Lin - I'm a big admirer of her Shostakovich recording which IMHO leads the field.  She's another pianist who claims a 'special' close association with the composer, and I would say of all the full sets on offer, this one seems closest to Glass' own style as revealed in his set of 10.
However I've been underwhelmed - in No.6 she sounds uncertain, in No.12 she matches Namekawa for pace but fails to swing, 2 and 19 are better.  The recording too (of a Steinway presumably) is just unremarkable, no sparkle, not much depth.  This issue is not the improvement on Namekawa that I hoped and expected it would be.



Anton Batagov recorded this set of 20 live in Moscow - but you'd never know, the audience is silent throughout (or rather, the piano mics don't pick the audience up) and no applause until the very end.  Issued on the Orange Mountain label and produced by Michael Riesman, this is yet another 'special relationship' product.  No-one who has seen the Bach Partitas thread will be surprised to learn that Batagov inclines towards slow tempi - but be reassured, he keeps his excesses in check here, perhaps mindful of his audience's need to catch the last bus home!  :laugh:
All four tracks sampled are at the slow end of the spectrum (well, No.19 he adopts the same tempo giusto as everyone else) and he employs rubato thoughout, to a markedly greater degree than the composer does.  So this is the antithesis of Namekawa or Olafsson.  But hey, it works for me - I can swing both ways.  ;D
But what sets this set apart from the rest is the recording (using Batagov's Russian mics) - I have never, ever, heard a piano recorded like this before.  Come to that, I have never heard a piano where the bottom end is so evidently well set up - the tuning down at that subterranean A is immaculate, and that's quite an unusual thing in my experience.  And that bottom octave gets a real workout in these Etudes.  Where Namekawa's piano growls like a bear, and Olafsson's buzzes like a bumblebee, this Steinway just purrs.  A gentle pp stroke of lowest A sets in motion a sound almost like an organ pedal note.  Incidentally that note - played ppp - is the final note of the final Etude.  Listening to this is like drowning in a vat of dark chocolate.
There's a price to pay - the recording lacks the crystalline sparkle that DG give to Olafsson's piano - so on balance and in general terms, Olafsson's is the better recording - but, horses for courses here.
Needless to add this is my current go-to set of these Etudes.  But I wouldn't be without Olafsson either.


The most recent release as I write is Sally Whitwell, this produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.  She has a recent history of recording Nyman, Satie and other fragments of Glass, and there seems to be a bit of an Australian connection with the Etudes - several of them were commisioned in, and premiered in, Australia, including Namekawa's world premiere performance of all 20 in Perth in 2013.
She is slow - slower than Batagov in three of the four samples which is saying something - and devoid of any mannerisms, very straight-ahead playing, I would say matchless in this regard.  Unruffled, deliberate, plodding, hypnotic, sleep-inducing - choose your adjective.  Probably the closest comparison would be with Van Veen - but with more legato so less of the hair-shirt - and the recording is similar too, pleasant but unremarkable, maybe a bit close.  Not really a front-runner, I would still choose Namekawa over either Van Veen or Whitwell.

Bottom line, my personal picks from the 12 sets surveyed are Olafsson, Batagov and Namekawa - with the last-named only really included because the Olafsson set is incomplete.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2018, 02:53:24 AM by aukhawk »

Offline SurprisedByBeauty

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1741
  • Back. Hello!
    • Surprised by Beauty
  • Currently Listening to:
    anything from Monteverdi to Widmann and well beyond in either direction and everything in the middle!
Re: Philip Glass
« Reply #241 on: February 17, 2018, 05:16:19 AM »
Philip Glass Etudes for piano, Nos 1-20.
Philip Glass turned 80 in January 2017 and this has sparked a spate of recordings of his piano Etudes, by my reckoning at least 7 sets since the start of 2016, with 3 just last autumn and the most recent being issued this month, February 2018.

Disregarding those piano collections containing just a handful of the Etudes - of which there are several -
in total we seem to have the following 12 sets at least - in approximate order of issue -


Thanks for this! Reading it with great interest.

Offline TheGSMoeller

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 10969
  • Monkey Greg.
Re: Philip Glass
« Reply #242 on: February 17, 2018, 08:58:08 AM »
Bottom line, my personal picks from the 12 sets surveyed are Olafsson, Batagov and Namekawa - with the last-named only really included because the Olafsson set is incomplete.

Thanks for the posts, aukhawk. Great work!

I can agree with your final assessment, I've been playing the Olafsson and Batagov the most out of these recordings. Although I still love the nostalgic feel of listening to the composer himself on the keyboard with his OMM release. Whitwell's I've also been appreciating, not as much as others, but hearing Glass' etudes at a more relaxed tempi and allowing the music to breath is welcomed as well.

Now I'd like to hear Batagov perform Mad Rush, I feel that would be a great one.

Offline aukhawk

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 672
  • Frankie
  • Location: England
  • Currently Listening to:
    Bach to Björk
Re: Philip Glass
« Reply #243 on: February 19, 2018, 02:50:06 AM »
Now I'd like to hear Batagov perform Mad Rush, I feel that would be a great one.

Indeed.  I'd like him to have a go at the Shostakovich Preludes & Fugues.  He could even be the first to spread them over a 4-CD set  :laugh: