Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Symphony No.9 (2011) [45:56]
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. live, 30 December 2011 and 1 January 2012, Brucknerhaus, Linz

We owe almost all Glass’s symphonies to the keen, indeed cajoling enthusiasm of Dennis Russell Davies. The Ninth, quite a marker in any symphonist’s work list, was commissioned by a gaggle of great and good organisations - the Bruckner Orchestra, Linz (who premiered it), Carnegie Hall, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Its first performance was given at the Brucknerhaus in Linz at the very end of 2011 and its US premiere followed very soon after, at the start of 2012.
It’s in three movements and lasts three quarters of an hour. It starts in an ominous D minor cast in a linear metric ABA form. Glass being Glass, it’s not ‘developmental’, though figures recur throughout either suspended rhetorically, or actively driving. The ear is drawn to the percussive-led drama of some of the writing, so too by the rich sonorities he generates. There are episodes that take a few listens to assimilate - I’m thinking of the rather weird Moroccan or North African-sounding paragraphs in the first movement. The ‘camel train across the desert’ aspect sounds facetious the first time one hears it, but actually it accrues depth, on repeated hearing, by virtue of its cinematic eventfulness.
The second movement reveals something that tends to be overlooked in Glassian discussion; the occasional loveliness of his writing, and its unabashed richness. Here, too, we hear that pervasive ambulatory and questing spirit that animates so much of his music, developing force in blocks - high winds and low brass combine, chugging away, buttressed by dynamic percussion and rhythm. I won’t be alone in hearing Ravel cross-pollinated by film music in this movement.
Much of the finale is torrid, inaugurated by teeming brass, and the spirit of convulsion is uppermost. Towards the very end baleful final chords announce the irresolvable and unknowable nature of things; there is a sense of striving, but toward what? To what end?
It’s surely to Glass’s great credit that a Symphony that many will dismiss as just another product of his shtick can leave one with a terraced series of questions such as these. No easy answers, then. No triumphant final chord. Instead, we have a strong and purposeful work that grows more memorable on repeated listening.
Jonathan Woolf

A strong and purposeful work that grows more memorable on repeated listening.