The Song Company – Close up: Liquid chokbolger mod impotens hvordan hurtigt ges 2 Days
The Wharf Studio, Sydney 24/3/2022
The core work of this program is “Songs from Liquid Days”, a cycle of six songs that Philip Glass wrote in 1986. It is based on lyrics commissioned from some of the excellent songwriters of the time: Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson. Although this cycle was famous when first written, partly because of its cross-over with popular music, it is rarely heard these days. So hats off to The Song Company for thinking of performing this work; it was pleasing to have the opportunity to hear it.
The work is sung here by Dan Walker who also plays synthesiser. Antony Pitts played piano and sang occasional backing vocals with Raphael Pitts.
Glass is of course famous as a key proponent of the minimalist style. Thus in the piano part we hear a lot of typical repeated chords, mesmerising arpeggios and slowly progressing harmonies. This is however contrasted to the vocal line which has generally long sustained phrases, high in the range of the tenor voice. Vocally it is very demanding to be always singing around the top of the stave, but Walker’s light voice was well produced and impressively seemed to handle this without signs of tiring. Pitts’ piano playing was impressive too. From a stamina point of view the piano part is pretty unrelenting throughout.
Like the lieder of Schumann, in this cycle the voice is mostly the vehicle for the poetry, and the bulk of the musically interesting activity occurs in the piano part. The compelling rhythmic momentum comes ever from the piano. Also, many of the poems, like those of the Romantics, concern themselves with nature, and it is again in the piano part where we hear the snow flakes swirling, a humming noise coming from an unknown source, thunder and lightning, water, bells (on the synth) and rain.
One concession to popular music in the piano is the prominence of bass riffs in some songs. Although in one place, the song “Open the Kingdom”, the length of the riff made it seem more like a ground bass of a baroque aria. The harmonies are on the whole pretty much diatonic. That said, there are many abrupt and surprising shifts in tonality too, the more dramatic for the generally diatonic background. This is a common feature of Glass’ music and has the feeling of a car changing gears. Jazzy elements are employed too, as in the last song, “Forgetting”.
There was a dreamy quality about this concert, a compassion and warmth which come equally from the lyrics, the composition and sympathetic performance. “These are the days of miracles and wonder” to quote Paul Simon. Many thanks to The Song Company for bringing this to us.