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Philip Glass: Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 3

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Glass, P.: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
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Audio CD, November 16, 2004
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Philip Glass has enjoyed a degree of popularity unusual among contemporary composers. A pupil of Nadia Boulanger, he was also influenced by the Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and has won a reputation as an exponent of minimalism, based on the systematic

Review

Musical America Conductor of the Year, 2008 -- Musical America, December 2008
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Composer: Philip Glass
  • Audio CD (November 16, 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B000675OJE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,548 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Along with his colleague John Adams, Philip Glass is the most familiar of the modern minimalists. Yet like Adams, Glass seems to be building a greater communicative sense with each new work I hear. These two symphonies were composed in the early nineties, and Naxos is now providing a 2003 recording of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra led by the insightful Marin Alsop. This is the same group of artists that played the wonderful version of Adams' "Shaker Loops" this past year, and this recording of Glass' works equals that one for dramatic insight and virtuosic preciseness.

A strings-only piece, Symphony #3 (23:58) has four conventional movements which build in drama and texture. It contains many of Glass' signature sounds with mono-tonal melodies that spiral in larger and larger circles and chords that feel like they are beating down an urban thunderstorm of clandestine activity - jabbing, throbbing, chugging - as they do in the second movement. Yet the music reflects some of his most gentle work especially in the first and third movements. There is an unexpectedly beautiful violin solo in the middle of the third movement that runs initially counter to his quietly driving sequential style until they eventually meld together. The drama turns fiery in the last movement as it broadens into an exciting albeit measured gallop, at the same time not sacrificing the virtuosity of the expert playing by the Bournemouth string section.

Symphony #2 (43:14) is a larger scale piece that makes dramatic sense to be played after the third, as it is a more ambitious work. It slowly builds in intensity with very broad strokes that deepen and darken when it comes to the bass-lines and the repetitive use of contrasting woodwinds.
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Format: Audio CD
I bought this CD simply on impulse (it was on sale for $5.99) but it turned out to be a rewarding purchase. I have always thought of Glass's great works to be his operas and smaller pieces (Glassworks etc.) but the pairing of these two powerful orchestral works makes you wonder if his symphonies are underrated (and certainly underperformed). Alsop creates a unified structure that makes a more compelling case than the previous recording of the 3rd (I don't have any comparison for the 2nd). Bournemouth, as everybody knows, is a fine orchestra, but really shines when Alsop asks them to provide a little more 'oomphh' than is usually called for in Glass works. No serious contemporary collector should miss this set, and at the price I'd buy one for a friend.
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I am a late convert to the music of Philip Glass. I was skeptical of it for a long time. Then I heard the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of his opera Satyagraha, which I was surprised to find had solid musical values. The same is true of the current CD. I don't think Glass is Bartok or Prokofiev, but that's not the point. He certainly can be mentioned in the same breath as an earlier American master like Howard Hanson. Indeed the Second Symphony, despite its minimalism, has melodies and structures reminiscent of the symphonic masters of the middle of the last century. Glass has said that the writing of Honegger and Milhaud in symphonic form still offers avenues for exploration, and he gleefully picks up their torch in this work. Surprising for minimalism, it even has a real finale that's reminiscent of the first two symphonies of Charles Ives. I have read a published review of this album that calls both works "unrepentant minimalism." That simply isn't true. The Third Symphony, written for 19 string players, is a beautifully accomplished piece of music. At times, particularly in the second movement, it is reminiscent of Stravinsky's concertos for strings. And in the sonorities of the last movement, there is even an evocation (unintentional?) of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. This is a very enjoyable disc, beautifully played and recorded.
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I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to sections 1 through 4 of symphony #3 several times in the day since I got this CD. These tracks are very engrossing and makes one think of the soundtrack from an adventure saga where there is a continuous rhythm of travel.

Symphony number 2 is less interesting to me but for the price the symphony #3 tracks are great.
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If you're a Glass fan, this recording of Symphonies No. 2 and No. 3 can't be beat for audio engineering and conducting.

Very clear, great stereo separation of the orchestra and mic'ing of the instruments. Because of the great recording engineering, Marin Alsop's great conducting and control of the Glass machine is right there to be enjoyed; thus perfectly providing the subtleties of the textures Glass had in mind I bet. (The low bass drum comes to mind, for instance... which rings low over the ensemble wonderfully in this recording.)

I prefer this over the Dennis Russell Davies recording by leaps and bounds.
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Until recently I had not paid much attention to Glass's symphonies beyond the Low Symphony (No. 1). I guess I got distracted by other things. With Glass's 75th birthday last year, I attended his Ravinia performance (So glad I did!) and read about his output in the past years. Wow, 9 symphonies!

So I got curious and picked up this recording. The Naxos label has been good about making good recordings and selling them at low prices. This one was no exception. I loaded it into iTunes and listened to it on airline flights using noise cancelling headphones. The sound quality of the recording was quite good and the flight provided a window of time for uninterrupted listening. I liked the recording enough to listen to it again on the return trip.

While I have no other recordings or performances to compare to, Martin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra make a compelling case for their performance.

For people who have not listened to Glass's music before, this not your great-great-great-great grandfather's symphony. Things unfold more slowly and subtly here than in Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky symphonies, according to a different logic. At first it may seem little more than repeated arpeggio figures slowly varied. (One could make the same statement about Bach's C major Prelude for the Well-Tempered Clavier and be correct, too.)

For people who know and like Glass's music, this is a bargain worth scooping up.
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Philip Glass: Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 3
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