WQXR: Ethan Hawke Cameos in Pianist Bruce Levingston's Philip Glass Survey

'Bruce Levingston: Philip Glass | Dreaming Awake' (Orange Mountain Music)

'Bruce Levingston: Philip Glass | Dreaming Awake' (Orange Mountain Music)

By Daniel Stephen Johnson

Bruce Levingston, no stranger to the music of Philip Glass, has finally issued an in-depth, two-disc survey of Glass's piano music, and the result is a surprisingly passionate and spontaneous portrait of the composer. Dreaming Awake (Sono Luminus) is a boldly individual approach to the keyboard works of an American master.

Interpreting the piano music of Glass offers a unique dilemma to the pianist. The construction of the music is often severe and mathematical, the materials lucid to the point of total transparency in order to better showcase the clockwork operation of the rhythms. Instead of plunging forward through a series of contrasting episodes, the music coolly repeats its cadences as if displaying itself in a mirror, allowing the listener to examine the same material from multiple angles.

But at the same time, the harmonic language of the music is undeniably steeped in affect. While the music's transparency and poise pull back towards restraint, the substance of those cadences push forward into warm-hearted sentiment. Should the pianist treat the score like a strict MIDI grid, metronomically obeying every rhythm in order to heighten the transparency of the music? Or should the performer take a cue from those ecstatic harmonies?

From the almost impulsive opening of this record, those first few notes of Glass's magnificently subtle Etude No. 2, it becomes clear that Levingston has given himself over to feeling. This is Glass the Romantic.

In addition to a generous helping of the Etudes, arguably the composer's most substantial solo works, Levingston also offers the rarer title track, his own arrangement of Glass's tuneful film music for The Illusionist, and the earlier Allen Ginsberg hymn Wichita Vortex Sutra.

Even Levingston's stellar choice of collaborator fits the bill. Instead of sampling Ginsberg's own delightfully idiosyncratic reading of "Wichita," Levingston recruits thespian Ethan Hawke, Hollywood's Gen-X embodiment of Romanticism, and Hawke's breathless delivery is absolutely of a piece with the almost cinematic heroics of Levingston's vision for these pathbreaking works.