Louis Glass Complete Symphonies, Vol. 2 – Insightful Performances

Volume 2 of CPO’s series present two Louis Glass works with a common theme. Both the works have strong theosophist elements. Glass found inspiration in the movement’s mystical imagery.

The 1912 Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra bears this motto: “From the spirit’s eternal canopy tones calling man sound down. And man turns away from the world and remains alone in order to find peace.”

That quote pretty much sums up the organization for the work. The Fantasy unfolds gradually, as an eternal canopy should. Glass uses very simple elements — open fifths, diatonic arpeggios, repeated notes —  to set the stage. These building blocks pile up in increasing complexity, suggesting the busyness of the world. The piano finally takes control, resolving the work in calm, peaceful beauty.

Glass subtitled his Symphony No. 5, completed in 1919, “The Wheel of Life,” after a key theophosit symbol. Each movement follows the progress of that wheel: Daily Life, Rest, Shades, Dawn. Bruckner and Franck are often cited as inspirations for Glass. In this work, I’m reminded of a few composers, too — Arnold Bax, Carl Nielsen, and perhaps a little Richard Strauss.

As with the Fantasy, the musical elements Glass works with are quite simple. And yet he uses them in such imaginative ways! Even without known the program, the symphony works. The first movement (Daily Life) is tightly constructed, bustling allegro energico with a satisfying resolution. The second movement (Rest) is a restful andante tranquillo, and so on.

The Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie have a warm, clean sound I find quite appealing (especially with this material). Glass was an exceptional pianist, and Marianna Shirinyan does justice to his writing in the Fantasy. Her performance is wonderfully expressive, without being overly so. It’s the right tone for Glass, I think.

CPO isn’t the first label to record Glass’s symphonies. Danacord has a cycle with Nayden Todorov and the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra. Marco Polo released the 5th and 6th symphonies with Peter Marchbanka and the South African Broadcasting Corporation National. These performances compare quite favorably with those, I think and offer slightly different insights into Glass’ music.

Louis Glass: Complete Symphonies, Vol. 2
Symphony No. 5 in C major, Op. 57
Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 47
Marianna Shirinyan, piano; Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie; Daniel Raiskin, conductor
CPO 777 494-2

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