Stephen Douglas BURTON (b. 1943)
Symphony No. 2 Ariel (1977)
Diane Curry (mezzo); Stephen Dickson (baritone);
Syracuse Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Keene
rec. April 1978, Syracuse, New York
BRIDGE 9436 [51:25]

Stephan Douglas Burton is an American composer best known for his music for voice. His opera The Duchess of Malfi had a very successful premiere in 1978 and is still occasionally heard while his symphony Songs of the Tulpehocken was long available on a Louisville First Editions LP. The Ariel symphony dates from 1977 and further demonstrates the composer’s ability to write for voices and orchestra.

The Ariel symphony originated in the composer’s desire to create a modern-day counterpart to Mahler’s Das Lied von Der Erde. In Burton’s symphony the text is taken from seven poems by the American poetess Sylvia Plath with the poems compressed into five movements. The first movement is based on the poems “Ariel” and “The Night Dances”. Burton’s vocal line in the “Ariel” section is not always grateful but he ably captures the poem’s rhythmic strength and the transition to “The Night Dances” is very effective. Burton’s writing is more fluent in this second section and truly evocative of the text.

The second movement contains the poems “Contusion” and “Fever 103” and Burton demonstrates real imagination in setting both texts as well as a masterly handling of the orchestra. Less impressive is the third movement, “Paralytic”, which seems merely to tread the same ground as the first two movements. More striking is “Daddy” which details Plath’s feelings at both the death of her father - when she was 8 years old - and at the breakup of her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes. The drive and emotional intensity is high throughout this movement.

The last movement, The Moon and the Yew Tree is Burton’s counterpart to “Der Abschied” in Das Lied von der Erde. It is on a large scale and covers a large amount of emotional territory before slowly dying away. It’s a fitting end to the whole symphony.

This recording was produced just after the premiere of the Ariel Symphony and with all the original performers. They give committed performances and this disc serves to remind us of the loss entailed in the early deaths of both Christopher Keene and Stephen Dickson. The 1978 recording has been re-mastered for this release and the sound is quite good. Bridge is to be commended for bringing back a notable example of late 20th century American romanticism.

William Kreindler

Track listing
1) Ariel-The Night Dances [11:33]
2) Contusion-Fever 103 [9:09]
3) Paralytic [6:00]
4) Daddy [10:59]
5) The Moon and the Yew Tree [13:42]

 

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