Valentina Lisitsa: Plays Philip Glass
There always seems to be new Glass material being issued, but the past few months have witnessed the release of an uncommonly large number of piano recordings. Earlier this year, one-time Bang On A Can All-Star Lisa Moore released Mad Rush, followed not long after by Bruce Brubaker's own Glass Piano. Valentina Lisitsa joins that august company with her own take on the composer's material, this one a double album set of solo piano works that betters the other two for being the most comprehensive of the group. Though the Kiev, Ukraine-born pianist might confess to a special affinity for Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, she's clearly no slouch in the minimalism department, as attested to by this recording and a previous one dedicated to the music of Michael Nyman (2014's Chasing Pianos).
In the recent textura review of Glass Piano (here), it was the delicacy of Brubaker's touch that was identified as the thing that most differentiated his recording from the Solo Piano set Glass himself released in 1989. As it turns out, Lisitsa's playing is as delicate as Brubaker's, and both bring the lyrical dimension of Glass's music into sharp relief (by way of illustration, consider Lisitsa's gentle rendering of “The Truman Show: Truman Sleeps” and The Hours' pensive “Tearing Herself Away”).
If there's one thing that helps set Lisitsa's treatment of Glass's music apart, it's her exquisite handling of tempo, specifically the graceful manner by which his patterns slow down and accelerate under her command. Her playing of “Morning Passages” from The Hours, for example, alternates between a peaceful lilt and an energized charge, as if designed to reflect the transition from awakening to engagement with the day's activities. Similar modulations are executed as fluidly in the other pieces from The Hours, among them “Something She Has to Do,” “Choosing Life,” and “Dead Things.”
The recording is thoughtfully sequenced, beginning as it does with, naturally, “Opening” from 1981's Glassworks and ending with “Closing,” part of the soundtrack material Glass composed for Paul Schrader's Mishima. Lisitsa covers some of the same ground as Moore and Brubaker, with her set, like theirs, featuring stellar performances of the oft-dazzling “Mad Rush” (at sixteen minutes, the album's second-longest piece) and the haunting, five-part “Metamorphosis,” and a spirited rendering of “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” the music Glass wrote for Allen Ginsberg's anti-war poem, also appears.
One surprise is the presence of “Olympian,” the official music Glass composed for the 1984 Olympics, but the thing that most distances her recording from the others is the inclusion of a 1968 work by Glass, “How Now,” a half-hour setting whose obsessive repetitiveness—so emblematic of his initial style—will likely challenge listeners with a preference for the concision of the pieces in The Hours soundtrack and on Glassworks. Though “How Now” is an early work, it's not without interest, and it's easy to identify parallels between its ascending runs and the rapid vocal patterns Glass worked into Einstein On the Beach. Lisitsa never falters in her rendition of the piece, and though it is admittedly long and repetitive, she still manages to imbue the material with delicacy and lyricism. Put simply, as an encompassing overview of Glass's music, piano-based or otherwise, Lisitsa's superb set is a hard one to beat.