City Halls, Glasgow
Philip Glass's Sixth Symphony – a setting for soprano and orchestra of Allen Ginsberg's rambling anti-nuclear poem Plutonian Ode – was commissioned to celebrate the composer's 65th birthday 10 years ago but hasn't received its UK premiere until now. We needn't have held our breath. Overlong and belligerent, the Plutonian is devoid of new ideas, and Glass's blatant regurgitation of old tricks makes a mockery of the innovation he once championed and for which he's still fanatically revered. The symphony isn't particularly well put together, either. Ginsberg's text is awkwardly and inaudibly declaimed – surprising, considering Glass made his name writing operas. Lauren Flanigan has recorded the work and sang it here with ardency, though many of the lines seem to linger too high in her range. The orchestration is similarly questionable. Clunky wind doublings, strings sawing in unison, a tambourine tapping syncopations like a sad, sold-out rhumba. And why, after 50 minutes of bombast, the trite little ending of such false modesty? In fact, why call it a symphony at all? Glass relegates the orchestra to background filler without any development of musical ideas or balance between movements. There's something menacing and oppressive about this dogmatic soundworld. Glass once called Boulez's serialism "crazy, creepy music"; these days he lives up to his own put-down. The concert's first half paired Elgar's Sospiri with Strauss's tone poem Death and Transfiguration. Nicholas Collon conducted both with stultifying attention to detail and little grasp of a bigger picture. The BBC Scottish Symphony sounded unfocused and unbalanced in a way I've rarely heard them – not just too big in the Straussian tuttis, but too abrasive. The effect on the rest of the score was like eating a mouthful of raw chilli then trying to taste anything else at all.
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