Written over two decades to improve his own piano skills, Philip Glass’s Piano Études are both technical studies and clear statements of his compositional philosophy – and arguably, the best starting point when beginning to understand Glass’s approach to music. As with the Bach Cello Suites, or Chopin’s Piano Études, however, they also represent an opportunity for the performer.
The Glass Piano Études demand interpretation, and in this crisp, attractive new recording, the young Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson brings drama to the otherwise sparse, minimalist pieces. The album opens with the overture from 1981’s Glassworks, on which Ólafsson leaves his distinct mark. This provides an opening statement and an entry point to the remainder of the recordings, which consist of a selection of the 20 Glass Études arranged out of order but in a convincing sequence nonetheless.
Ólafsson’s performances are skilful, revealing a lightness of touch, subtlety in interpretation, and offering a wide palette of gesture and colour. Étude No 20 is particularly compelling, verging on the Romantic. The arrangements of Étude No 2 and the Glassworks overture, which closes the album, for piano and string quartet are both fine performances in themselves, and offer some variation, but seem to interrupt the album’s otherwise unified concept. Otherwise, this is a beautiful Glass recording, showcasing both composer and performer at their best.