The Lebrecht Weekly: First Light – Muhly and Glass (Pentatone)

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  • Pentatone (Muhly)
  • Pentatone (Glass)
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In a decade when no-one is writing new symphonies – depressed, no doubt, by Covid performance constraints – we are having to make do with new violin concertos commissioned by the likes of Patricia Kopatchinskaya and Pekka Kuusisto. The Finnish virtuoso turned for his premiere to Nico Muhly, a New York composer who used to assist Philip Glass, and has augmented this album with works by his minimalist master.

Fearing this might sound samey and predictable, I found myself in for a pleasant surprise; more than one, in fact. Muhly’s concerto, titled Shrink, has repetitive tropes but they are mitigated by a perpetual momentum that propels us to an eventful conclusion. Shafts of Bergian asperities and dollops of American bluegrass whip up a fine froth and a swathe of Anglican hymnody lurk somewhere in the crypt below. I have long admired Muhly’s demi-millennial eclecticism, ranging from Tudor polyphony to post-modern atonality, and this concerto marks a fresh stride into space and time. Kuusisto, needless to add, is a razzle-dazzle virtuoso who makes any new piece sound easy.

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People who review Philip Glass should never throw stones (it only encourages him). Muhly and Kuusisto make short shrift here of a Glass film score from The Screens, and Kuusisto creates a new score for the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra with an expanded setting of Glass’s third string quartet, a filmic meditation on the life and violent death of the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. It means no disrespect to Glass to say that he’s a better composer than he often sounds. The musical intelligence is razor-sharp. If only he changed the tune now and then.


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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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