As a result of the popularity of Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours (based on Michael Cunningham’s rather convoluted novel of the same name), some of the most familiar music of Philip Glass comes from the soundtrack he composed. An Amazon.com search on “philip glass hours” yields 21 results; and, while not all of them are correct, they include not only the soundtrack album itself but also an album of piano solos performed by Michael Riesman and a three-movement suite from the Portrait album of the Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau and her all-female string ensemble called La Pietà.
That suite has now been reconceived as a piano concerto by Riesman, and today the debut recording of that concerto was released by Orange Mountain Music. Riesman performs as soloist with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson. The recording was made at a concert performance given in the CBC Glenn Gould Studio on September 17, 2011 (an early recognition of Glass’ 75th birthday the following January). That same concert also included Glass’ third symphony, composed in 1995 for the nineteen strings of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; and the performance of this symphony is also included on the recording.
Those who think that Glass is still composing the sorts of repetitive structures associated with most of his earlier works, such as his Einstein on the Beach opera, are likely to be pleasantly surprised by this recording. While the Philip Glass Ensemble (often conducted by Riesman) may have emphasized winds and electric keyboards, Glass has a strikingly effective approach to string sonorities, which is particularly evident in the symphony but also stands out decidedly in the Hours concerto. I also still have vivid memories of his having given a solo recital of his own pieces performed on a grand piano, which disclosed layers of poetic expressiveness not encountered in the instrumentation of the Glass Ensemble. That expressiveness is given far more than its due in Riesman’s performance of the concerto.
These are highly sensitive interpretations of Glass’ music, and Orange Mountain Music has done a great service by making the concert at which they were performed available as a recording.