I am behind in my listening, or at least in my posting about the listening.
For about a week, I made my way through Skys, by Michael Danna, and Brian Eno’s Discreet Music.
The first one is somber space music, based, the composer says, on the lowering skies of Canada. Well, who wouldn’t jump at that? I can resist the temptation. The ten pieces on the CD are all basically the same, an ostinato kind of figure over which there is some countermelody, without any kind of harmonic exploration, or indeed thematic for the most part. Very uninspiring. Onto the giveaway pile.
The Eno is a bit more complex. The first piece, the title piece, is a lovely bit of Eno’s ambient stuff, pretty much indistinguishable from most of his other stuff, but pleasant.
The other three tracks are entitled Three Variations on the Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel, and it’s a bit more involved. In each, parts of the Canon are subjected to “systems,” e.g., the tempo of each players part is decreased at a rate governed by the player’s pitch. The first is, at first listening, most successful. Probably the other two would bear fruit upon further exposure.
I then moved on to two symphonies by Philip Glass, No. 8 and No. 2. The Eighth was part of my desk pile; the Second was on my CD shelf.
The Eighth was my favorite of the two. Its command of the soundspace was more masterful. I know it’s hard to think of someone like Philip Glass becoming more assured over time, especially since the Second was written when he was already a master, but to my ears there’s a definite difference in the success rate of the form.
The Second was choppy, a little more self-conscious about what it was trying to do (be a symphony), and it just did not pull together. The Eighth, on the other hand, was a return to purely instrumental after the choral/vocal settings of the 5th-7th. It announces itself with a strong opening, and the energy is carried throughout the movement.
The second movement is a passacaglia, and it sounds organized in ways that Skys never did. The third movement is the most interesting. It’s very short, only seven minutes long, and it’s very slow, with no Glassian fireworks at all. The English horn intones a despairing kind of theme in a bleak landscape. It repeats, then twice more with a countermelody, then the whole thing closes out in an evaporation of sound.
My next two listening adventures are Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3, and BartÃ³k’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on one CD, and Rautavaara’s “Angel of Dusk,” Concerto for Double Bass; Symphony No. 2; Suomalainen myytti (A Finnish Myth); and Pelimannit (Fiddlers), on the other CD.