Friday, May 09, 2008

Philip Glass, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello

(Update. I’ve now listened to the 7 songs a number of times. I’ve concluded that it is much less Bach, than the earlier, more primitive Domenico Gabrielli, of the Ricercars for solo cello, among the earliest of all known music composed specifically for cello. Gabrielli is simpler and less developed than Bach, but has a driving insistence all his own. I actually quite love Gabrielli, the Ricercars, the Canon for 2 cellos (which is arguably the earliest cello music), and also his two sonatas for cello and continuo, all of which I play - badly. The thing is, Glass’s cello songs are arpeggios repeated mostly, rather than counterpoint and, except for the wonderful song V, there is relatively little of the polyphony of the Bach solo suites. Indeed, not really even the polyphony that you find in the Gabrielli ricercars. In that respect, it has a more raw, primitive feel to it, like the Gabrielli ricercar number 1, which is almost like a continuo line for solo cello. Wendy Sutter, playing the Glass songs, gets a big bite on these repeated arpeggios with her bow. She is a player with enormous precision and control - you can feel that in her bow arm, completely - but there is also a sense, in her bowing of these chords, that she is, I don’t know, tearing off chunks of raw meat with that same bow. There is a huge, guttural power there. It is unusual to have the music focused so much on the lower range of the cello, but it is definitely ‘gutteral’. I’m not sure that is what she or Glass had in mind, but there you have it.)

Jean-Marie just gave me a gift out of the blue, something she had seen reviewed somewhere ... Philip Glass, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, performed by Wendy Sutter.

It’s an absolute stunner, both the music and the performance. It is very close in feel to Bach solo cello suites. I will be listening to this a lot, especially late at night working with headphones on.

I have not normally been a huge Philip Glass fan - the repetition just got too boring, even if I was supposed to be achieving a higher plane or something. It seemed like perfect soundtrack music for the right kind of performance, but not something I really wanted to listen to.

No, that’s not quite right. I saw, many years ago at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, a quite stunning Philip Glass opera, The Juniper Tree. That was rivetting. But it was also true that the force lay in the repetition, which would have quite bored me out of my mind if it had not been tied to the book being played out on stage.

This album is something very different. Quite remarkable. Wendy Sutter has a remarkable sound, precision and intensity. Utter and complete control. The sound of her bow conveys utter control.

Track V is particularly wonderful.


Guanaco said...

I just watched Wendy Sutter playing this concert with the LaJolla Symphony on TV. It has run several times recently on UCTV (channel 9412 on DISH network).

This is a wonderful piece and Wendy gives a fantastic performance. Definitely worth purchasing...

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