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Itaipú & Three Songs for Choir a Cappella
01 Dec 2010

Philip Glass: Itaipu and Three Songs for choir a cappella

Philip Glass has achieved a level of success that places him in a very select group of composers of serious music.

Philip Glass: Itaipú & Three Songs for Choir a Cappella

Itaipu: Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, Conductor. Three Songs: The Crouch End Festival Chorus National Sinfonia, David Temple, Conductor.

Orange Mountain Music 0063 [CD]

$19.99  Click to buy

Mozart died at a point where his once-glittering career had him in financial straits. Schubert never heard his greatest compositions performed by a professional orchestra. Beethoven enjoyed some great successes, but he never owned his own publishing company. Philip Glass, however, has Orange Mountain Music, a label solely dedicated to preserving for posterity recorded documents of such compositions as this disc’s Itaipu, a “paean to…the huge hydro-electric dam…on the border between Brazil and Portugal” and Three Songs for Chorus a Cappella, which are not paeans to hydro-electric dams. They are paeans to the 350th anniversary of the founding of Quebec.

What your reviewer admired most about this Orange Mountain disc is the packaging. Simple and elegant, it features a cover photograph of a dam (uncredited and uncaptioned), and some brief notes which give helpful information on the commissioning of the works. No texts were provided for the Three Songs, but the enunciation of The Crouch End Festival Chorus is impeccable. On Itaipu, the Los Angeles Master Chorale has its own impeccability in chanting “oooh” and “ahh” in various formulations.

Once beyond the packaging, your reviewer found the disc mostly banal, occasionally irritating and sometimes giggle-inducing. The four-beat rhythm underlying most of the 12 minutes of Itaipu’s first section, Mato Grosso, rivals Poe’s telltale heart for sanity-threatening repetitiousness. The following three sections offer different moods but similar musical procedures, and if the actual dam is as crude in structure as the composition, watch out below. In Three Songs, the chorus members with words to sing are accompanied by others offering harmonic support in very very very simple lines mostly enunciated with “buh buh”s and “dah dah”s.

For those keyed into Glass’s style, these compositions are probably rewarding — hypnotic, one supposes, enveloping. To your reviewer — buh buh buh. And dah dah too.

Chris Mullins

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