GLASS: Heroes Symphony (from the music of David Bowie). Low Symphony (from the music of Brian Eno)
American Composers Orchestra (Heroes); Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra (Low); Dennis Russell Davies, cond.
PHILIPS B0000840 (2 CDS) (B) (DDD) TT: 86:46

VAN ONNA: Wheatfield with Lark, for Piano and Orchestra (1997). Rain, Steam and Speed, for orchestra (1994). The Mondrian Equilibrium, for chamber orchestra (1995). Dalian Images, for alto saxophone and orchestra (1998).
Bart van de Roer, piano; Arno Bornkamp, alto saxophone; Netherlands Ballet Orch/Zsolt Nagy, cond./Neal Stulberg, cond (The Mondrian Equilibriuim/Dalian Images)
DONEMUS CV 102 (2 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT: 39:12 & 45:34

Both of these sets have a pair of short-length discs – the cheaper of them featuring Philip Glass’ gloss on the music of David Bowie and Brian Eno, which he calls “Symphonies.” Low, in three movements, was the earlier from 1992, based on a like-titled analog disc from 1977. The six- movement Heroes followed four years later, based on an analog disc from “the late ‘70s.” According to Glass’ brief program notes, “David and Brian combined influences from world music, experimental avant-garde and rock & roll and thereby redefined the future of popular music.” Well, if he says so. Actually there is welcomely little (make that “less”) Glassolalia in the sense of repetitive patterns, and a time-tested mastery of orchestral technique that make these discs rather pleasant Easy Listening.

Dennis Russell Davies has been, as it were, Glass’ house conductor, and in Heroes is joined by the American Composers Orchestra and associate conductor Michael Riesman, who co-produced both works with Kurt Munkacsi. Low is played by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Oddly, this duopack was copyrighted by Decca Music Group Limited, although Universal Classics Group “manufactured and marketed” the set and has issued it on Philips (because Universal took over Polygram a while back, which owned not only Decca and Philips but its flagship label, Deutsche Grammophon). Anyway, the sound from an undocumented locale is consistent throughout and indubitably contemporary. The contents of Low are three works: “Subterraneans,” “Some Are,” and “Warszawa,” lasting 42:32. on CD02. Heroes, which Twyla Tharp has choreographed, includes the title piece, “Abdulmajid,” “Sense of Doubt,” “Sons of the Silent Age,” “Neuköln” and “V2 Schneider,” lasting 49:59. These titles will doubtless have meanings for Bowie & Eno fans beyond their appearance in Glass’ two “Symphonies.” Being neither a Bowie nor an Eno groupie, I’ll settle for Basically Easy Listening, albeit repetitive.

The Donemus CD duopack from The Netherlands is altogether more provocative musically, despite even briefer timings – respectively 39:12 and 45:34 – but again too long for a single disc. However, Peter Van Onna (b. 1966) is an orchestral dervish compared to Glass, a composer who bases his music on response to paintings. You may not want to hear them twice a week (or even once a month) but Van Onna’s instrumental palette is gorgeous in all but his quixotic choice of “The Mondrian Equilibrium” for chamber orchestra, which defies motion. Elsewhere a sense of fantasy doesn’t need any graphic hooks to make its musical effect. His vocabulary is pre-neo- Romantic but don’t let that frighten you off – there’s more color and action in his four responses to stimuli by Van Gogh, J.W. Turner, Piet Mondrian and Salvadore Dali than you’ll find in Disneyworld West, South or abroad. Plus, Van Anna has composed more picture-music that Donemus ought to share with us if this tetralogy is typical of the young Dutchman’s standard. That standard, by way of concluding, has produced the first Alto Saxophone Concerto (in the form of nine “Dalian Images”) that I’ve ever enjoyed hearing, and will be hearing again you can be sure. Recommended for adventurers.

R.D. (September 2003)