PHILIP GLASS (b.1937): Symphony No. 1 "Low".
Catalogue Number: 07Q084
Label: Orange Mountain Music
Description: This 1992 work was Glass' first essay in the symphonic genre, which has so far produced ten examples. By traditional standards, unlike some of the more recent works, there isn't much that makes this piece genuinely 'symphonic'. It consists of three movements based on two tracks and one bonus track from David Bowie's 1977 album ' Low'. This isn't as much of a stretch as it might sound, as Bowie's moody, dense synthesizer melodies and looped gestures transcribe perfectly logically for orchestra, and for a good part of the piece this is what Glass does - the first half of the first movement, for instance, basically consists of Bowie's slow, somber melody with somewhat changed harmonies and an oscillating accompanimental figure (not really a typical Glassian one, either; it sounds a bit as though it was borrowed from the early part of Nielsen 5). As the piece progresses, other stereotypically Glass gestures provide a counterpoint to Bowie's material, in a loosely variation-like sequence of episodes. Interestingly, the outer movements especially often sound less instantly recognisable as Glass than much of his output, sounding as though the composer was attempting to strike out in a new direction, which continued somewhat in the following early symphonies (the middle movement, a kind of ABA-form scherzo couldn't be by anyone else); more recent entries in the canon have much more the sense of large-scale, confident orchestrations of the kind of thing he was doing in the 1980s, making the new availability of this watershed work a fascinating insight into Glass' developing style. Basel Symphony Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies.