Cocteau Trilogy is a thrillingly played collation of arrangements for two pianos drawn from Francophile Philip Glass’s operatic homages to the French polymath and film director Jean Cocteau by Katia and Marielle Labèque.

The siblings approach arranger Michael Riesman’s kaleidoscopic treatment of Glass’s crystalline tributes with an obvious respect for detail. And, more persuasively, a palpable and becoming relish, carefully turning each phrase and movement with a telling fascination for the glinting, ever-changing shapes and patterns that result.

Dedicatees of his Double Piano Concerto in 2015, the pair have long been articulate advocates of Glass’s music. Here, they mesh together with all the poetic intricacy and reciprocal intimacy that has become their signature, both intently listening and responding to the other.

Such propinquity pays especially notable dividends in the hypnotic chiaroscuro contrasts of Orphée, Cocteau’s updating of the oft-told fable of Apollo’s son attempting to rescue his beloved Eurydice from death with his sirenic music. Laced by

Glass with a diamanté-encrusted Joplin-like vivacity, the Labèques take to it with a precise, now gleeful, now glowering certainty.

Alternatively ripe and restrained, they are equally sure-footed (and sure-fingered) in the meticulous re-working of the fantasy-laced romance of La Belle et la Bête, re-imagined by Glass as a meditation on the transformative nature of the creative process.

In Riesman’s shadow-cast arrangement of Glass’s “dance-opera” adapting Cocteau’s novel, Les Enfants Terribles, the sisters shine with a dark-hued beauty and a sense of drama pregnant with mortality. Caught somewhere between baleful gravity and blithe ethereality, it’s a remarkable performance worth the price of the disc alone.

That said, it’s not clear from the unhelpful booklet whether this is the performance recorded by the Labèques for DG in 2020. Some will also balk at the glaring absence of notes beyond a short preface by Glass himself. The absence of a commentary by Riesman is surely a woeful oversight.

Even so, textual shortcomings don’t detract from Katia and Marielle Labèque’s wonderfully eloquent and insightful playing in an altogether mesmerising recital.

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Composer: Philip Glass
Works: Cocteau Trilogy: Orphée, La Belle Et La Bête et al.
Performers:  Katia & Marielle Labèque p
Label: Deutsche Grammophon 4875369 (2CD)

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