Glass: Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Ana Maria Martinez (soprano), Denyce Graves (mezzo-soprano), Michael Schade (tenor), Eric Owens (baritone), Albert Dohmen (bass-baritone); Morgan State University Choir, Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir, Vienna RSO/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79618-2
Philip Glass’s new Symphony is yet another big musical statement for the millennium. It’s a vast choral and orchestral setting of sacred texts from the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim traditions, plus one or two intriguing Japanese and Native American sources. These are translated into English and arranged in a nine-movement Requiem, showing the decline of Creation into suffering and death, the present moment we’re in now, and a joyous closing ‘rebirth’. It’s a long piece, over 90 minutes, and much of it has a kind of all-purpose solemn grandeur, conveyed by endlessly revolving three- or four-chord patterns, decked out with ponderous bass notes and ‘awesome’ brass chorales. The sound has a curiously bodiless quality, which is partly the performance – the choral singing is very bloodless – but mostly due to the recording, which has been tweaked and manicured into a smooth blandness. It could have been toe-curlingly awful, but there are redeeming features. The soloists are excellent, the creamy mezzo sound of Denyce Graves being especially fine. And to my surprise, I found in between the long stretches of loud Hollywood Bible-epic blandness, sudden quiet, touching moments, where Glass’s stiffness and ungainliness take on a Satie-like innocence. Ivan Hewett