Continuing the tradition established by Chopin, Debussy and Ligeti, piano etudes by Philip Glass have been loved by many concert pianists. Although most etudes are created for the purpose of pursuing a specific harmonic or technical preoccupation related to the instrument, Glass’ carry a particular element of beauty and depth. Melancholy is mixed with sweetness, rhythmical drive with unique harmonic language; one senses an arc of the composer’s personal relationship with the piano in this music.
The new recording by Leslie Dala, a conductor and pianist based in Vancouver, brings in a solitary air of an artist who has found stillness. Dala has a natural pianistic affinity for Glass’ compositional language. He experiments with a wealth of colours found in these etudes but never strays away from the classical pianistic tradition. A strong percussive touch accentuates the fluid motion of the music. The result is an album that is refined and rich, natural in its expression.
Hearing the 20 etudes in succession makes for the best listening experience. Each etude has its own character and atmosphere but it is the flow, the longer narrative and the observation of correlational aspects and the morphing of Glass’ compositional and Dala’s interpretative ideas that gives the listener deeper understanding of this music. By the time the last etude is played, gentle and unassuming, the sonic space becomes clear. And when the sound blends with silence at the very end, one is granted the sense of closure.