By some way Philip Glass’s most powerful concert work, Plutonium Ode, sets a scathing anti-nuclear poem by Allen Ginsberg. Glass meant to compose an accompanied recitation, following their earlier collaboration Hydrogen Jukebox, but Ginsberg died before it could happen. The symphonic solution came about when Dennis Russell Davies wanted a new piece to mark Glass’s 65th birthday in 2002.
It brings together Glass’s theatre and instrumental styles in two near-operatic scenes and a massive slow ritual march. An initially dark tonal palette, rich in horns and lower strings, generates latent energy that bursts out in despairing, idyllic and grotesque developments. When the soprano’s declamations ride over it – as here with eloquence and the necessary stamina – they seem to urge the music on, and indeed the biggest moments are for orchestra alone. They culminate in the grandeur of the final variations, which rise from an oscillating line to repeated sequences all the more devastating for their simplicity, especially so in this intense, committed performance … the music demands hearing. It will change received views.Robert Maycock, BBC Music Magazine, 2/1/2006
'Philip Glass’s Sixth Symphony, the ‘Plutonian Ode’, was commissioned four years ago to mark his 65th birthday. The three movements last around 50 minutes and are a large-scale setting for soprano of Allen Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque poem of the same title. The first of this pair of discs is a straightforward recording of Glass’s score, conducted with his usual cool control by Dennis Russell Davies, with Lauren Flanigan singing the soprano line suspended over Glass’s familiar churning textures. The second disc contains the same performance but with Flanigan’s voice more distant and a recording of Ginsberg reading his poem overlaid upon it. The effect is curious: Ginsberg reads in a dry, detached way and, with the soprano echoing his words and the orchestral textures curling around them both, it becomes a different and, in many ways, far more interesting and successful work, although still one primarily for hardcore Glass fans.', The Guardian, 3/3/2006
The newsreel rhythms of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's angry environmental poem Plutonian Ode might sit better over Bob Dylan's guitar than Philip Glass's lush neo-Romantic orchestral music. But there’s something about Glass’s sincerity that gives this project wings. In fact Glass and Ginsberg were old Greenwich Village pals who’d originally planned to perform the work together in a reciter-piano duo. After Ginsberg’s death Glass reconceived the piece for soprano voice, but on disc two the poet’s own whiskied recitations demonstrate his superior emotional breadth and oddball charm.Philip Clark, Classic FM, 5/1/2006