Review: Music from The Hours and Other Philip Glass Film Scores
3.5 / 5 Stars
Not too long ago, I reviewed Philip Glass\' Symphony No. 8 and commented that people usually turned off by Glass\' repetitive -isms would be surprised by this latest offering which sounded like anything but the usual Glass. Now comes an iTunes exclusive, Music from The Hours and Other Philip Glass Scores, which is the exact opposite: a collection of pieces that paint a familiar portrait, one filled with arpeggiac ostinati, staccato one-note motifs, and repetitive structures.
The music was recorded live during a concert performance for piano and string ensemble and has the added bonus of occasional coughs and random noise from the audience. The album begins with perhaps its strongest material, "Secret Agent", featuring beautiful cello work in the opening bars and a darkly romantic, distinctly European flair to the rest of the music, with overlapping themes for each section of the string ensemble making for a wonderfully layered composition. The restrained "Thin Blue Line" is next, with its elegiac motions and occasional rests, followed by "Runaway Horses", an interesting interplay between staccato chord progressions and running lines on the viola which ultimately yield an insistant, galloping two-note ostinati for the ensemble.
The middle part of the score contains a 23-minute long suite from The Hours divided into three sections. The performance is eerily similar to the one on the soundtrack release, but the recording has more echo, especially for the piano, and when a lot of high, crystalline pitches are hit at the same time, the sound becomes murky and slightly distorted. Owners of this release could skip buying the full score to The Hours as the suite combines all the major thematic material from the film.
"Overture to La Belle et la Bête" is next, with its tormented piano and string lines reminiscent of Glass\' own Dracula which is to follow. Our last stop before Glass\' score to the 1938 Bela Lugosi film is "Closing", a classical piece from the composer\'s album Glassworks. Its repetitive piano line is complemented by a soft, ebbing support by the string ensemble. The most pleasant surprise this album has to offer, though, comes with a selection of cues from Dracula where the original soundtrack recording by the Kronos Quartet is superseded by a full string ensemble and the keyboard part, originally performed by Philip Glass himself at a special presentation of the movie, has been restituted and is being performed on the piano. The piano part seems to replace the first violin\'s from the soundtrack release, giving way to a distinct performance of the score with a more expensive and dramatic sound.
The performance by the orchestra is quite good, with the exception of a few mistakes by the pianist, notably in "Dr. Van Helsing and Dracula". The recording is strong and noises from the audience are few and far in between. Who should look into this release? Fans of the composer, obviously, but also audiophiles taking a new interest in the field of film music who wish for a thorough introduction to the Philip Glass sound. For anyone turned off by minimalism and repetitive arpeggia, Symphony No. 8 would be a wiser purchase. As it is, Music from The Hours and Other Philip Glass Scores is a solid 80 minutes of Glass\' signature sound which will please collectors and neophytes alike.
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