Again tonight on WNYC at 8:15pm, they will be playing selections from the new Philip Glass album, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello. On Tuesday they played “Songs and Poems” in its entirety, tonight one presumes the Tissues from Naqoyqatsi.
As a follow up, here is the review of the CD in the Washington Post by the prominent critic, Anne Midgette, formerly of the New York Times but now at the Post in the position formerly held by Tim Page.
“It’s a sad fact that sometimes a critic fails to appreciate a piece fully the first time through. When Wendy Sutter, the cellist from the Bang on a Can All-Stars, gave the world premiere of Philip Glass’s “Songs and Poems for Solo Cello” at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York a year ago, I quite liked it. Hearing it again on recording — the piece has been released as a slender (43-minute) CD on Glass’s own label, paired with “Tissues (from Naqoyqatsi)” — I found it not merely pleasant, but gripping.
Glass has always been both prolific and uneven, turning out pieces that are sometimes excellent, sometimes apparently written on autopilot. But “Songs and Poems” maintains an unusual degree of directness and warmth. Digging into the lower registers of the instrument, it takes flight in handfuls of notes, now gentle, now impassioned, variously evoking the minor-mode keening of klezmer music and the interior meditations of Bach’s cello suites. There’s little mere repetition here, and when it comes, it means something: like the rocking gestures of the seventh and final song, a kind of wistful balm to soak up the intensity of what has preceded it.
Sutter’s performance contributes not a little to the intensity; that this piece is deeply personal (she and Glass are a couple) comes through loud and clear in the tanglings of her bow, the throaty richness of her tone. But “Tissues,” a group of pieces written for Yo-Yo Ma, while not as strong as “Songs and Poems,” suggests that Glass has a natural affinity for cello. On this recording, the instrument seems to respond to his demands in a way that the human voice has never quite been able to. — Anne Midgette