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Philip Glass: Glass Box: A Nonesuch Retrospective


Philip Glass

Album: Glass Box: A Nonesuch Retrospective
Label: Nonesuch

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It's hard to parse out the intended audience for Glass Box, a 10-disc set of Philip Glass' recordings for Nonesuch. Anyone willing to commit to such a huge chunk of Glass' music is probably already a fan. But mammoth as it is, Glass Box's sampler-platter approach falls into the same trap as many box sets: There's a lot of everything here, but almost never enough of anything. We get parts eight through 10 of the early statement-of-purpose work Music In 12 Parts, abbreviated versions of the popular operas Einstein On The Beach and Satyagraha, a greatest-hits collection of film music, and so on. Sticklers for historicity will probably prefer the earlier recordings of these pieces, and the box provides all the evidence a Glass-hater would need to condemn the composer, who's made repetition a cornerstone within his compositions, but also of his compositions. Early Glass works like "Music In Similar Motion" have an uncompromising, vibrant austerity, but also contain the ideas he reworked for decades.

But Glass Box also serves as a brick-sized reminder that what Glass does still works as beautifully now as ever. He finds seemingly infinite variety in swirls and arpeggios (and in pieces like Symphony No. 3, ample evidence that it isn't always about swirls and arpeggios). The excerpted longer works suffer from a lack of context, but the discs dedicated to string quartets (with the sympathetic Kronos Quartet), the soundtracks to Godfrey Reggio's first two "qatsi" films, and the revisitation of his "pop" breakthrough Glassworks crystallize the Glass voice. It's affecting music that sidesteps romantic appeals to emotion, capturing a fleeting moment of a world in constant motion, then repeating the moment—maddeningly and movingly—until it joins hands with eternity.