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Glass: Cello Concerto No. 2 / Haimovitz, Russell Davies, Cincinnati Symphony

Glass / Haimovitz / Cincinnati Sym Orch / Davies
Release Date: 05/14/2013 
Label:  Orange Mountain Music   Catalog #: 87   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Philip Glass
Performer:  Matt Haimovitz
Conductor:  Dennis Russell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GLASS Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi” Matt Haimovitz (vc); Dennis Russell Davies, cond; Cincinnati SO ORANGE MOUNTAIN 0087 (39:32) Live: Cincinnati 3/30-31/2012

I’m frightened that it has been more than a decade since I reviewed Philip Glass’s Naqoyqatsi soundtrack in these pages ( Fanfare 26:3), yet time marches on. Read more style="font-style:italic">Naqoyqatsi was the third of Godfrey Reggio’s “Qatsi” films—the title means “war as a way of life,” roughly, and like its predecessors, the film eschews plot and dialogue in favor of mind-blowing and thought-provoking imagery, all amplified by Glass’s powerful music. In 2003, I described it as “ National Geographic meets the Book of Revelations ,” and it is even more relevant today. I was enthusiastic about the soundtrack release, which remains available on Sony SK 87709.

At the time, it was hard not to be a little cynical about the blockbuster commercial potential of pairing Glass with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose playing figured prominently in the soundtrack. Still, the results disarmed criticism, and if some people took home a nice paycheck because of the combination, I guess that’s not a crime. My incipient cynicism came forward again when I read that Glass had converted his Naqoyqatsi score into a cello concerto—the result of a commission by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. (The brief introductory note included with this release does not make it clear whether the commission was for anything Glass wanted it to be, or specifically for a “Naqoyqatsi” concerto.) How nice for Glass to be able to create a new concert work by editing a decade-old film score. The same introductory note calls this a “proper concerto for cello and orchestra,” but I have to ask whether that is just a semantic trick. This Concerto, improperly, is in seven movements, and the titles of the movements are identical to the titles of seven of the cues of the Naqoysatsi soundtrack. The movements and corresponding cues are not musically identical, however. For example, in the Concerto’s eponymous first movement, bass Albert de Ruiter’s chanting of the film’s title has been omitted, reasonably enough, as have the heartbeats. In “Massman,” the soundtrack opens with swirling electronic figures that are omitted in the Concerto, although, as in the soundtrack, later they are paraphrased by the orchestra. And so it goes. Essentially, the Concerto is a 40-minute condensation of the 77-minute soundtrack, with its least orchestral portions removed. It’s not as if Glass sat down and rethought the work extensively. I guess one might call that lazy, but of course similar things happened all the time during the Baroque era. Furthermore, the music is so powerful that I can’t help being glad that this Concerto has given it a new lease on life. This is some of Glass’s darkest and most tragic music, and also some of his most approachable.

Haimowitz was recorded in a concert hall and Ma in a studio, I assume, so comparing the two of them is difficult. On the soundtrack, Ma is almost larger than life, and his cello is made to sound very warm. Haimowitz plays this music as well as Ma, I think, but his sound is more sinewy and not as frankly “romantic” as Ma’s. If this really is a concerto, perhaps it is so because Haimowitz and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have a concerto-like relationship with one another, whereas Ma’s work with the members of the Philip Glass Ensemble (a smaller group than the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) sounds more like independent parts that just happen to fit together.

The soundtrack contains some interesting music that did not find its way into the Concerto, probably for practical reasons, so this new Concerto in no way replaces it. If you can have only one of these two discs, get the soundtrack, but if you like it and then want to hear a new (but not very new) spin on it, get the Concerto as well. Note, however, that this is a rather short CD.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello no 2 "Naqoyqatsi" by Philip Glass
Performer:  Matt Haimovitz (Cello)
Conductor:  Dennis Russell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

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