This latest album of Philip Glass piano music is a desperately poor effort from a pianist who apparently thinks that pressing down notes in the right order constitutes an interpretation. Never mind the specifics of the cultural milieu that helped create this music. Don’t bother listening to other pianists – musicians who have worked with Glass or indeed the composer’s own recordings. People who know stuff? What have they got to say that might be remotely useful?
As in her earlier album of music by the British composer Michael Nyman, Valentina Lisitsa has assembled a grab-bag of Glass film scores – from The Truman Show, The Hours, Mishima and The Olympian – and her strategy is to wrap these already candy-sweet scores inside a lasagne of tinsel. Which is not to say that she puts a technical finger wrong. Inner parts are balanced; harmonic ambiguities are allowed to speak. No, the problem lies in her decorative and ambient touch, which reduces the music to inert patterning.
The brief spans of most of these picture-postcard vignettes means that your irritation is generally only momentary. But her hapless attempt to sustain the 30-minute generative structure of Glass’s 1968 How Now – one of his trail-blazing, early compositions – can be nobody’s idea of good enough. By way of comparison, released on Orange Mountain Music in 2013 came an archival glimpse of Glass’s own premiere performance; his attack, on electric organ, stabs rather than tickles, and in his hands the music steams ahead with the stuttering elegance of a tumble dryer. Lisitsa’s performance in contrast lacks structural impetus for the simple reason that everything has mistakenly been forced into a tentative middle-ground: Philip Glass deserves better.