I must say at the outset that I admire the ornery, anti-establishment tone pianist Seivewright adopts in his notes to this disc of music by Louis Glass, similar in spirit to the diatribe in his Bach concerto disc. The targets of his venom this time are musicologists who have defined modernism in terms that largely dismiss music that doesn’t occupy the cutting edges of the early 20th century. He has a valid point to make, but I’m not sure that I would use that card to advocate for the greatness of Louis Glass, a composer who hasn’t exactly earned fervent kudos among the writers of Fanfare. His assertion that no country outside Germany “has such a glorious repertoire of Romantic music as Denmark” is hard to fathom, but such hyperbole may not be altogether destructive from an advocate of the cause.
The two discs represent less than half the total solo piano output from the Dane (1864-1936), but the pianist has taken pains to assemble a collection that represents a wide spectrum of form and breadth. As well as 1 can determine, this is only the second disc recorded of his piano music, and the earlier one (Nina Gade, Marco Polo 9306, reviewed in Fanfare 19:3) contains the same two sonatas and the Fantasy that are included here.
Two consecutive tracks on the first disc represent the structural extremes of Glass’s work. The first of his Lyrical Bagatelles runs a mere 26 seconds, and spans only eight bars. Its innate simple charms are typical of the set, and the slight technical demands might suggest their purpose as teaching pieces for children, though the notes do not provide this explanation. Preceding these miniatures is the giant Fantasy, a work the pianist describes as easily the most popular during Glass’s lifetime. He correctly describes the harmonies as striking, but I find little sense of genuine surprise and dramatic risk that the best pieces with that title demonstrate.
Even with its unwieldy proportions (a whopping 42 minutes) and Brucknerian ambitions, the First Sonata may be the best work. One interesting feature is that Glass shuns introductions as a way to extend sonata forms. His themes are well crafted, and his sense of structure is sound and traditional. What is missing from most of his works is a sense of dramatic conflict or taste for risk-taking. The pianist apparently either disagrees with this assessment, or believes that these qualities are overrated. His playing is cool and precise, without the kind of exaggerated dynamic contrasts some resort to while trying to make a case for an underserved composer. The recorded sound is first-rate.
I doubt many listeners will adopt his ecstatic assessment of Glass’s work, but there is easily enough quality to merit a listen or two, and for those with an appetite for underserved Romantics (and there are many of you), this disc is worth a look.
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