Glass: Einstein On The Beach / Philip Glass Ensemble
Not even CD can quite simulate the vast timespan of Einstein on the beach, the seemingly endless wall of Glass that apparently faces listeners during live performances of this extraordinary four-hour theatre piece. Disc changes, fades at the ends of tracks and compressions of material apart, however, this recording does at least offer a glimpse of the work to those of us who have yet to experience (or may never have the chance to witness) Philip Glass's first opera fully staged. Needless to say, four CDs give a far better sense of the work's sheer scale and continuity than do the eight (sometimes rather short) sides of the original LP issue.
Majestic and bewitching as so much of it is, there are certain drawbacks to hearing the music purely on its own. As Max Harrison explained in his review of the LP, the score is not narrative in conventional operatic terms. Blocks of relatively unvarying music that range from 4 to 24 minutes in duration do no more than suggest a prevailing mood, sometimes with the aid of a spoken text that may (or may not) be obliquely related to the stage action. Home listeners of course lack the visual element that explains what it's all about. Even the generous spread of illustrations provided with the LPs (not reproduced in the CD booklet) give only the vaguest impression of Robert Wilson's stage spectacle and, like MH, I wonder whether this divorce of music from image sometimes seriously reduces the impact oIGlass's carefully calculated effects. Judged purely as music, for example, the sheer tedium of "Trial" (Act I scene 2) becomes almost unbearable; in the theatre, does its relationship with the stage action result in something more engaging?
Don't expect, then, to be able to make complete sense of everything in this piece. But do be prepared to be charmed, even mesmerized by many sections of the score. The scintillating, energetic swirl of "Dance 1" (Act 2 scene I) is certainly no endurance test. Quite the opposite: you can easily lose yourself in this complex of glittering broken chords, and what a wrench it is when the music finally comes to a halt. "Building/Train" (Act 2 scene I) is, unambiguously, deeply disturbing music, whatever visual imagery it was designed to reinforce. Passages such as these stand so successfully on their own that one might almost forget their context and cherish them instead as autonomous works. Perhaps CBS should consider issuing a single CD of highlights.
-- Gramophone [9/1986]
Catalog Number: SONY 38875
Composer: Philip Glass
Conductor: Michael Riesman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Philip Glass Ensemble
Performer: David Anchel, Dora Ohrenstein, Iris Hiskey, Jon Gibson, Lucinda Childs, Marc Jacobi, Michael Riesman, Paul Mann, Paul Zukofsky, Philip Gavin Smith, Philip Glass, Richard Landry, Richard Peck, Samuel Johnson, Sean Barker, Sheryl Sutton