First of all I need to put my cards on the table – I am a Philip Glass fan. I’m not sure why that feels like such a confession but it probably needs stating, like declaring hidden goods at customs. This is a collection of piano pieces by the “mature” Glass, not the early radical who alternately awed and angered the music community with his heavily amplified and surreal take on Western music’s basics but the genteel classicist who has embraced symphonies and concertos with increasing ardour.
For many years Glass retained strict control over his catalogue, ensuring a steady stream of performance engagements, however since his extraordinary commercial breakthrough the gates have slowly opened to others revealing a more nuanced character than one might assume. This is a beautiful and sensitive reading of the repertoire by Sally Whitwell, one of Sydney’s busiest and most broadminded pianists. Whitwell’s take on works like Mad Rush and Wichita Vortex Sutra (originally a duet with Allen Ginsberg) reveals a passion often absent in Glass’s own interpretations; likewise she brings refreshing chiaroscuro to the famous Opening from Glassworks. In her hands the latent echoes of earlier composers become clear: Glass, schooled by Nadia Boulanger, clearly absorbed much Mozart, Chopin and even Satie.
The challenge of tackling Glass is confronting his tight musical parameters and, sure enough, a feeling of déjà vu creeps in here and there; however, through subtle artistry Whitwell sculpts a set of acoustic objects that are both refined and warmly human.