Of Philip Glass' conventionally scored chamber works, his String Quartet No. 5 is probably the best-known, in part because the Kronos Quartet and the Smith Quartet have given it first-rate recordings, but also because its more traditional approach and neo-romantic feeling hold a special attraction for a broad audience. This five-movement work has Glass' characteristic patterns and pulses, at least as they developed from his hard-edged, amplified minimalism of the 1970s to softer acoustic textures over the course of the 1980s, though the music is much more melodically contoured and expressive. This 2015 release by the Carducci String Quartet adds another title to the work's growing discography, and it is a wonderful performance by musicians who have a strong sympathy for Glass' idiom. It is programmed with the Suite from Dracula, a soundtrack Glass composed for the Tod Browning film, Dracula (1931), and Michael Riesman's arrangement of the Symphony No. 4, "Heroes," here presented as the String Sextet.
Philip Glass’ Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, composed in 2000 and transcribed for wind ensemble by Mark Lortz in 2004, is a significant addition to the repertoire of large-scale works for timpani. The work is rhythmically galvanizing, sonically alluring, and features virtuoso cadenzas for both soloists. Symphony No 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ is Mohammed Fairouz’s first major work for wind ensemble, and its inspiration is the provocative comic book by Art Spiegelman, written shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Spiegelman himself has commented: “I’m moved by [this] scary, somber, and seriously silly symphony…I’m honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9/11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of high-brow cartoon music.”
Philippe Herreweghe directs these Schumann concertos with severity and urgency, with an impact that’s particularly strong in the opening movement of the A minor piano concerto. The soloist is Andreas Staier, who plays a mid-19th century J.B. Streicher instrument. But it’s not just the use of period instruments (this is certainly the kind of piano Schumann would have known) that proves so fascinating here; rather, it’s the minutely detailed way in which soloist and conductor interact during this performance. Note, for instance, how astutely Herreweghe’s wind players articulate the sorrowful first subject group after the soloist’s opening salvo, a passage that sets the tone for all that follows.