Glass fans may find the title of this three-CD collection from Sony a little presumptuous, lacking as it does any of Glass’s “essential” recordings for Nonesuch Records (Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima, Music In Twelve Parts, any of the symphonies or string quartets). However, the Sony catalog does include the trio of so-called “portrait operas” — Einstein On The Beach, Satyagraha and Akhnaten — as well as such emblematic works as Songs From Liquid Days and Glassworks, all of which are effectively excerpted here. Someone could quibble with the selections and sequencing, but of course that’s always part of the fun of any best-of collection. This someone wishes they’d included “Confrontation” from Satyagraha, and that “Tolstoy Farm” from that opera appeared before the closing “Evening Song,” since the latter is based on the principal orchestral line in the former. But in the main, the high points of all three operas are here, and those with neither the time nor the inclination nor the download credits to get the full operas will be well served by these excerpts.
One of the subtexts of the music is the collaborative nature of Glass’s art. In that respect, this collection lives up to its name. Two songs written with David Byrne appear on disc 1: “A Gentleman’s Honor,” from the multimedia work/violin concerto The Photographer, and “Open the Kingdom,” an elliptical but somehow ecstatic song from the cycle called Songs From Liquid Days. (That song cycle also included texts by Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon and others.) The Naqoyqatsi soundtrack is a collaboration with the great cellist Yo Yo Ma, and is represented here by tracks like “Primacy of Number” and “Point Blank.” Wichita Sutra Vortex is a work done with Glass’s longtime friend, the late poet Allen Ginsberg. And the irrepressible dances of In the Upper Room come from another fruitful collaborator, the choreographer Twyla Tharp. But perhaps the most essential collaboration in Glass’s canon is the group of musicians who appear on the tracks from Glassworks: the members of the Philip Glass Ensemble. The polyrhythmic “Opening,” the urgent “Floe,” and the haunted, subdued “Facades” are truly essential Philip Glass.