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Seven Symphonic Poems

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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Not-Doings of an Insomniac
Bass Partita and Poetry (2015) [23:24]
Prelude to Endgame for Double Bass & Timpani (1984) [7:56]
Robert Black (double bass, spoken texts)
rec. James L. Dolan Studios of the Steinhardt School of Music – New York University,
dates not given.

The Not-Doings of an Insomniac developed as a result of Philip Glass’s frequent travels to unfamiliar cities and different time-zones, changes that often bring on bouts of insomnia. While on a trip in Europe in 2015, Glass decided to turn these redundant waking hours into something useful, and one of the results is this Partita for Solo Double Bass, written for Robert Black of Bang on a Can All-Stars fame.

The piece is written in seven movements, each with its own title: Not Dreaming, Tasting, Smelling, Hearing, Seeing, Touching respectively, and finishing with Not Beginning. Not Ending. Most of these pieces sound like etudes, and in an identification parade you’d probably only pick something like Movement VI – Not Touching as having enough distinctive Glass character for a clear ID. Many of the others you might hazard a guess at Bottesini or Kreutzer. What raises this set into something atmospheric and theatrical are the poems in between each movement. These are by Glass’s friends or associates, and the texts by Lou Reed, John Cale, Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, David Byrne, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and Arthur Russell are read with superb character and variety by Robert Black.

The programme concludes with the premiere recording of Prelude to Endgame for double bass and timpani. I hunted for the name of the percussionist but drew a blank, so maybe this is Robert Black again. This music was composed for a 1984 production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and is an energetic exercise in syncopated accents from the drums and arpeggios from the bass. With both instruments in a similar sonic register this can come across as a bit boomy, but sounds good at double-speed if you get the chance to try.

At just over 30 minutes this release is never going to be ‘bargain of the month’, but these are pieces of which double bass players should be aware, and Robert Black’s sublime skills are very much worth experiencing.

Dominy Clements

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