Glass: Symphony No. 6 (Plutonian Ode)

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LABELS: Orange Mountain Music
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 (Plutonian Ode)
PERFORMER: Lauren Flanigan (soprano), Allen Ginsberg (recitation); Bruckner Orchester Linz/Dennis Russell Davies
By some way Philip Glass’s most powerful concert work, Plutonian Ode, sets a scathing anti-nuclear poem by Allen Ginsberg. Glass meant to compose an accompanied recitation, following their earlier collaboration Hydrogen Jukebox, but Ginsberg died before it could happen. The symphonic solution came about when Dennis Russell Davies wanted a new piece to mark Glass’s 65th birthday in 2002.


It brings together Glass’s theatre and instrumental styles in two near-operatic scenas and a massive slow ritual march. An initially dark tonal palette, rich in horns and lower strings, generates latent energy that bursts out in despairing, idyllic and grotesque developments. When the soprano’s declamations ride over it – as here with eloquence and the necessary stamina – they seem to urge the music on, and indeed the biggest moments are for orchestra alone. They culminate in the grandeur of the final variations, which rise from an oscillating line to repeated sequences all the more devastating for their simplicity, especially so in this intense, committed performance.


The second disc overdubs a recording of the poet declaiming his text – understandable given the work’s genesis, though with mixed results: rather than fade down the singer it would surely be better to omit her. Either way, the music demands hearing. It will change received views. Robert Maycock