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Glass: Itaipu, Three Songs For Choir A Cappella

Glass / Los Angeles Master Chorale / Gershon
Release Date: 04/13/2010 
Label:  Orange Mountain Music   Catalog #: 63   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Philip Glass
Conductor:  Grant GershonDavid Temple
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Master ChoraleCrouch End Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 46 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GLASS Itaipu. 3 Songs for Choir a Cappella 1 Grant Gershon, cond; Los Angeles Master Ch; 1 David Temple, cond; Crouch End Festival Ch ORANGE MOUNTAIN 0063 (46:23)

Nature, science, and technology provided the impetus for a trilogy of works written by Philip Glass in the late 1980s: on the exploration of the nature of light that helped usher in the period of modern scientific inquiry, on the beauty and majesty of an Read more imagined canyon, and on the technological marvel of a massive hydroelectric dam built on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Itaipu is the third of these works (the other two are The Light and The Canyon ), a cantata on the harnessing of the powerful Paraná River with the largest dam ever built at that time. The four movements evoke the vast forests of the headwaters of the river, the 563 square-mile lake behind the dam, the buttressed cathedral-like structure of the five-mile long dam itself, and coda-like, the final journey of the river to the sea. Layering over the orchestral block chords and insistent rhythms, Glass sets a creation text in the language of the local Guaraní Indians, creating a long-breathed parallel lament for the inundation of the Guaíra Falls, their sacred center of the world. No text or synopsis is provided—perhaps that is as Glass prefers it, since he wanted the work to stand as pure music—but a translation and notes can be found at philipglass.com.

Glass’s Orange Mountain Music label has licensed this 2002 recording, still available on RCM in its original coupling with choral songs by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The Sony recording by Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, for whom Itaipu was commissioned, is available as well. Both are very fine performances. Grant Gershon’s traversal is arguably the most Minimalist, as he allows the slow repetitious evolution of the themes to progress organically. This is most successful in suggesting the immensity of the dam, and the calm imperturbability of the lake, with the light playing on its surface. Shaw is more dramatic: tenser at the beginning as the myth unfolds at the river’s source, more consciously vigorous in the evocation of the dam, and offering more contrast in dynamics and tempo within movements. Gershon sets faster tempos in all but the first movement, but the Shaw performance often seems to move more quickly. Both choruses are excellent—one would not expect anything else from these two ensembles—with the Master Chorale especially impressive in nailing difficult entrances. The RCM sound is not particularly transparent, but the more forward placement afforded the Los Angeles chorus emphasizes the vocal line. The clarity and greater prominence of the huge orchestra in the Sony recording better reveals the rich layered counterpoint and coloristic effects of the deft instrumental writing with the chorus more a part of the overall texture. Still both recordings are, in their own ways, effective.

The additional repertoire on each disc further complicates the choice. The Three Songs for Choir a Cappella originally appeared on a Silva Screen release of choral songs, a CD that is now out of print. The songs, Glass’s only a cappella choral works, are lighter in intent and texture than those of Itaipu , appropriate to the lyrics on love and self-sacrifice by Leonard Cohen, Raymond Lévesque, and Octavio Paz. The sound is drier and a bit boxy, which, while not particularly flattering to the fine amateur English chorus, allows one to appreciate both the expert part-writing and the accuracy of the ensemble. The Canyon , with its sibling relationship to Itaipu , with thematic and rhythmic similarities, is the more logical disc companion. Its energy, color, and echoes of Arabian dance and Gamelan music (and is that Star Wars ?) make it an eclectic listening experience. It is also currently the only recording of the score. The performance by Shaw and the ASO is impressive. Given the choice between the two discs, I lean toward the Shaw, but you can’t go wrong with either.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Itaipu by Philip Glass
Conductor:  Grant Gershon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Master Chorale
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; USA 
Length: 35 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Songs (3) for Choir a Capella by Philip Glass
Conductor:  David Temple
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crouch End Festival Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 52 Secs. 

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