September 23, 2023

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Classical home listening: Nino Rota, Philip Glass and Stravinsky | Classical music

The composer, pianist and conductor Nino Rota (1911-79) is best remembered for countless brilliant cinema scores, notably for The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, but also for classics by his fellow Italians, the directors Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli: La Strada, Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits among them. Throughout his life, and despite composing on average 10 film scores a year, Rota also wrote concert music and opera. Nino Rota’s Chamber Music (Alpha Classics), performed by star players of the Berlin Philharmonic and friends – including Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Daishin Kashimoto (violin) and Paul Meyer (clarinet) – showcases Rota’s distinctive creative voice, its variety, point and spirit.

The five-movement Nonetto glitters and gleams with restless energy. Meyer, with Aurélien Pascal (cello) and Eric Le Sage (piano), makes a strong case for the flowing, abundant Clarinet Trio, which has a rhapsodic, lyrical slow movement. While you can see why Rota was a gifted film composer, in the stylistic fluidity and quick shifts of mood, this music more than stands alone and should be on the menu of every concert hall.

Maya Beiser.
Maya Beiser. Photograph: Lucia Bell-Epstein

The avant-garde American cellist Maya Beiser, a founder member of the Bang on a Can All Stars, has had a long association with the music of Philip Glass. She played the solo cello part of his Naqoyqatsi score on a world tour with him and his ensemble in 2005. On Maya Beiser x Philip Glass (Islandia), her 14th solo album, she has included her own arrangements of sections of that music, together with Glass’s piano Etudes Nos 2 and 5 and other works, live looping them and recreating multilayered cello tracks.

Throughout, the changing layers of Glass’s music are laid bare – as Beiser says, “like the layers of sedimentary rocks formed at the Earth’s surface”, and expanding into the landscape like lava. In the early classic Music in Similar Motions (1969), Beiser rigorously observes the strict tempo as each new line enters and the drama of the piece, with its pulsating rhythms, constantly “forte”, unfolds. The oscillations and interknit rhythms of the piano piece Mad Rush (1979) take on glowing transparency, the perspective and timbre new.

A bold and radical Rite of Spring: Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s take on Stravinsky’s ballet, filmed in 2019 in a first collaboration between the two Leeds-based companies, is available to watch from Friday (until January 2022), streamed on OperaVision.