First Light - Muhly & Glass / Kuusisto, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra

Release Date: 6/4/2021
Label: Pentatone
Catalog Number: PTC5186745
Conductor: Pekka Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble: Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1
Length: 47 Minutes

Physical Format:

In Stock
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra present First Light, the first fruit of Kuusistos tenure as the ensembles Artistic Director, on which two eminent New York composers are cast in a Nordic light. The album offers the world premiere recording of Nico Muhlys Shrink (Concerto for Violin and Strings), a unique, remotely-recorded rendition of Philip Glass The Orchard by Kuusisto and Muhly, and Kuusistos new string orchestra arrangement of Glass Mishima String Quartet No. 3. Violinist, conductor and composer Pekka Kuusisto is renowned for his artistic freedom and flair in directing ensembles. Since its formation in 1977 the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra has established itself as one of the foremost chamber orchestras on the international classical music scene today. Nico Muhly is one of the most-performed composers of his generation, and appears as pianist on this album. Kuusisto, the NCO and Muhly all make their PENTATONE debut.


First Light (Pentatone), the first collaboration on disc between the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, of which he is artistic director, presents works by Nico Muhly and Philip Glass: two New York composers of different generations united in friendship. Muhly’s Shrink (2019), a glittering, jittery, mischievous violin concerto written for Kuusisto, is here given its world premiere recording. The work reflects its title, contracting and intensifying as it progresses, a perfect mirror of the word “shrink” and a platform for Kuusisto in hyperactive, virtuosic mode.


Glass’s The Orchard (from The Screens), in comparison, is a work of slow, long-breathed elegy. Muhly is the pianist, with Kuusisto beautifully lyrical and tender – a track you immediately want to share. The violinist has arranged Glass’s String Quartet No 3 “Mishima” for string orchestra, played here with energy and finesse, bringing alive those mid-1980s surging symmetries that first made Glass a cult figure.

Kuusisto's approach to these works is unusually lively. The pairing of Muhly and Glass is fresh and intelligent.  The opening Shrink, with its three movements titled "Ninths," "Sixths," and "Turns," repeats figures and intervals in a very Glass-like way, even as the nervous mode of expression is different. Kuusisto contributes his own orchestration of the Glass String Quartet No. 3, which works very well in orchestral guise. As an entr'acte, there is a short piece by Glass, "The Orchard," performed remotely in 2020 by Kuusisto (violin) and Glass (piano) during the coronavirus pandemic. An enjoyable release of music by two American composers whose popularity in Europe seems only to be increasing.
Muhly's Shrink is an energetic, driven concerto, played with intensity by Kuusisto on violin. Although not dissonant in character, it is not a piece that lingers over lilting melodies. Then comes Glass's The Orchard, performed here as a duet for piano and violin, and the mood completely changes, becoming soothing and almost therapeutic. Following the frenetic forward motion of Shrink, to arrive in such a pleasant, peaceful, musical grove is a refreshing respite. The arrangement for string orchestra of Glass's String Quartet No. 3, "Mishima" that closes the program adds some weight and texture to Glass's minimalist creation. With excellent engineering and informative liner notes, this is a solid release of contemporary music from Pentatone.
– Classical Candor
Works on This Recording
1. Violin Concerto, "Shrink" by Nico Muhly
Performer: Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)
Conductor: Pekka Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble: Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Written: 2019 ;
2. The Screens: The Orchard (arr. for violin and piano) by Philip Glass
Performer: Nico Muhly (Piano), Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)
Written: 1990 ;
3. String Quartet No. 3, "Mishima" (arr. P. Kuusisto for string orchestra) by Philip Glass
Performer: Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)
Conductor: Pekka Kuusisto
Orchestra/Ensemble: Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1985 ;
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