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CD Review

Philip Glass


Albert de Ruiter, bass
Western Wind Vocal Ensemble
Philip Glass Ensemble/Michael Reisman
Nonesuch 79506-2 DDD 73:19
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More than 15 years ago, Philip Glass's epochal music for Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi won a Golden Globe Award for Best Score. A lot has changed since then. First of all, musicians have fifteen years additional experience playing Glass's music, and the composer himself cites this as a valid reason for recording it again. ("Now we know the language," he says, "and we're fluent in it.")

Another reason, one at least equally compelling, is the unequivocal establishment of the compact disc as the recording medium of choice… at least for now. Back in 1983, the score to Koyaanisqatsi was released simultaneously on LP and CD. At that time, newly issued CDs usually contained exactly the same material as that contained on the parallel LP. With the average LP holding between 45 and 50 minutes of music, this meant that CDs often were released 25 to 30 minutes short of their capacity. The running time of the film is 87 minutes; most (not all) is accompanied by Glass's music. This means that his music needed to be edited for the original LP and CD releases. Some material was trimmed down, and some was removed entirely.

Now that LPs are more or less gone, CD manufacturers don't need to be concerned about limiting their releases to 50 minutes of music. This new Nonesuch CD exploits almost the entire capacity of the medium; the only music not presented here, in the words of annotator Tim Page, is "connective passages." The tracks "Organic" and "Resource" are new. "The Grid," that arch-hypnotic of kinetic fury, now has a playing time of 21:23. For Glass's admirers, need I say more? For the rest, short of catching the film, this is the best way of hearing Glass's music the way he intended. More is more.

As the composer suggested, these new performances are even more assured than the older ones. Albert de Ruiter's basement voice sounds a little grittier than it did in 1983 – or is that a by-product of the fantastically clear digital recording? – but the medium is perfectly in keeping with the message.

Did I mention that this is some of Philip Glass's very best music?

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle