Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass

Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass

Philip Glass wrote his first quartet in 1966—it contained the kernel of his unique, minimalist style that would go on to characterize much of his later music. However, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Glass returned to the quartet medium with four vignettes for a dramatization of Samuel Beckett’s prose poem Company, a soliloquy exploring themes of isolation, memory, and the nature of existence. Glass’ music shifts quickly from its lyrical, hesitant opening to pulsating intensity, onwards to a second movement that thrusts forward, unrelenting. The hypnotic, uneasy beauty of the third and fourth movements are perhaps perfect Glass: reductive in their briefest of motifs, yet able to express so much in so little time. “It’s one of those rare works that feels so right,” Kronos Quartet founder and first violin David Harrington tells Apple Music Classical. Kronos recorded the String Quartet No. 2 on their first Nonesuch album, he recalls, and recorded it again for this album of Glass quartets. String Quartet No. 3 is extracted from the quartet music that Glass wrote for the 1985 film Mishima about the life and work of the great Japanese writer, each movement accompanying a moment in Mishima’s life (“what a perfect quartet that came out of that soundtrack,” says Harrington). Quartet No. 4 was commissioned in memory of artist Brian Buczak who died of AIDS in 1987. Its opening funereal chords dissolve into typically Glass-like circling arpeggios. “Movement 3”, perhaps the composer’s best-known quartet movement, is Beethovenian in its beauty and introspection, its glorious theme ascending, descending, meandering, as if in search of meaning. Beginning the album is Glass’ String Quartet No. 5, composed for Kronos Quartet in 1991. Already it feels freer, more exploratory, less confined. Those tiny repeated motifs, the insistent rhythms, and the intense, motivic energy all still characterize the music, but Glass has set himself free—it’s playful, Romantic, even cinematic. “I remember when Philip’s wife died and he took a break,” says Harrington. “I think he went to Nova Scotia just to be with himself. And that’s when he wrote that fifth quartet. There are moments in it that are so beautiful and so perfect.”

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