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Album Review

It is perhaps a generalization, but it could be reasonably argued that apart from the music written for his own ensemble, Philip Glass' work tends to be strongest when it is written to accompany a dramatic action. His trilogy of portrait operas (Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten), his film scores (Koyaanisqatsi [and its sequels], The Thin Blue Line, Kundun, The Hours), and his operas based on Cocteau films (La Belle et la Bête, Orphée) are certainly among his most imaginative and memorable pieces. In 1995 Glass was quoted as saying "In almost all of the non-theatrical works, if you examine them, you'll find there's actually a subtext which is theatrical." Nonetheless, his "absolute music" — pieces in traditional Western classical forms like string quartets and symphonies — only infrequently has the internal logic, momentum and originality of his explicitly dramatic music, and that is true of his Symphony No. 9, written in 2011. This exemplary, committed performance by Dennis Russell Davies and the Bruckner Orchester Linz, taken from its world premiere on January 1, 2012, makes as strong a case as possible for the work. Essentially, the symphony sounds like the recycling of ideas very similar to those of earlier works. It is most interesting in its often startling juxtapositions of contrasting moods and in its harmonic structure, which is freer than is sometimes the case with Glass' work. There are many attractive moments, such as the lovely opening of the second movement, and there are powerful sections that generate propulsive excitement, as the middle parts of the first and second movements do. The whole fails to cohere, though. It's perhaps best appreciated when the designation of symphony (and all that that implies) is set aside and the focus is on the persuasiveness of individual moments. The piece should be of strong interest to fans of the composer's, but it is unlikely to make new converts. Orange Mountain Music's sound is clean, detailed, and vibrantly present.

Philip Glass: Symphony No. 8, Bruckner Orchester Linz
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