At its best, Philip Glass’s music offers a mesmerizing journey into subtle variation and delicate melody. At its worst, it drills repetitive ideas into the ground without any notion of rhythmic sophistication or harmonic development.
Fortunately, A Far Cry’s performance of Glass’s Third Symphony, and the premiere of his piano concerto with soloist Simone Dinnerstein, offered much more—vastly more—of the former than the latter. Coupled with two works by Bach—the G minor keyboard concerto, and the third Brandenburg—this was one of the most entertaining and well-conceived programs of any recent season.
An enthusiastic audience at Jordan Hall showed that AFC has become the darlings of the adventurous music crowd in Boston. They deserve it. Hard-working, ambitious in repertory but certainly not specialists in any genre, AFC tours widely, engages its listeners with genuine music and enthusiastic performing, and conceives of programs that make sense. Like this one.
Glass’s enormous output as a composer is truly graced by the two works on this program. His third symphony, premiered in 1995, was composed for string orchestra. It’s notable for its third movement, a gradually evolving chaconne. Beginning in the lowest voices, it builds around the orchestral sections to the upper strings, where the violins begin a memorable cantabile line, passing it throughout the section.
Odd but distinct echoes populate the work. Snippets from Glass’s score to “The Photographer” appear, as do unmistakable references to the work of Arvo Pärt—the dedicatee of the final movement of the piano concerto.
Dinnerstein’s artistry was the focus of the second half. She led both the keyboard concerto and the premiere from center stage, facing away from the audience, on a lidless Steinway.
The premiere had many strong moments, especially in its first two movements (it was played without any break). It has a powerful solo part: Dinnerstein hardly paused a moment. And touching, individual moments: a duet with the cello section, blissfully recalled later in the work, was only one highlight.
It did overstay its welcome though. The finale, with a long section that had Dinnerstein repeating the same left-hand ostinato, with the right hand moving up the keyboard for a triplet, and then crossing over for heavy chord, could have concluded at any time during the final ten minutes or so of the performance. It was beautiful, but stayed that way too long.
A Far Cry next performs in Boston on Oct. 21 (Jamaica Plain) and 22 (Gardner Museum), in a program that features the world premiere of Elena Ruehr’s piano concerto, with Heng-Jin Park, soloist. afarcry.org; 617-553-4887.