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Philip Glass: Symphony No. 12 ‘Lodger’

Angélique Kidjo (vocal); Filharmonie Brno/Dennis Russell Davies (Orange Mountain Music)

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Philip Glass
Symphony No. 12, ‘Lodger’
Angélique Kidjo (vocal); Filharmonie Brno/Dennis Russell Davies
Orange Mountain Music OMM0159   39:23 mins


Philip Glass’s Twelfth (‘Lodger’) follows on from Symphonies Nos 1 (‘Low’) and 4 (‘Heroes’), which take inspiration from David Bowie’s Berlin albums. While Nos 1 and 4 quote Bowie’s melodic material – spun in an episodic and typically Glassian style – ‘Lodger’ uses lyrics from six of the ten songs on the 1979 album, recasting them in an orchestral format with solo vocalist, with the end result more of a song cycle than a symphony. Although Bowie gave his blessing to the project, one wonders what he might have made of this bizarre conclusion to the trilogy, which receives its first recording here.

Following the work’s premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by John Adams, Dennis Russell Davies made modifications to the piece in collaboration with Glass. In this recording, Davies safely steers the Filharmonie Brno through the choppy cross rhythms. But the orchestral part is so far removed from the vocal line – sung by Angélique Kidjo, with whom Glass has worked before (he wrote Ifé Songs for Kidjo and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg) – that it inadvertently sounds like two separate pieces (for example, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ features an organ toccata overlaid with jarring plaintive solo). Reimagining well-established songs is always a risk – unfortunately, on this occasion, the pay off is disappointing.


Claire Jackson