Carl St. Clair / Pacific Symphony Orchestra

Philip Glass: The Passion of Ramakrishna

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The Pacific Symphony Orchestra of Orange County and the Nashville Symphony co-commissioned Philip Glass' oratorio The Passion of Ramakrishna, which had its first performance in 2006. This recording comes from a 2011 revival with the Pacific Chorale, John Alexander, director, and the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St. Clair, who had conducted the premiere. The composer wrote the libretto based on the life of the mystic and spiritual leader Sri Ramakrishna, who died in 1886. The prosaic text, which includes excerpts from the mystic's teachings and a description of the details of the cancer symptoms of his final days, doesn't make a very compelling narrative or draw in the listener the way Glass' most effective dramatic works do, and doesn't call forth his most elegant or profound text setting. The score breaks no new ground for the composer, but it should appeal to his fans. The final chorus, which uses more imitative counterpoint than most Glass scores, is deeply moving and is by far the most engaging part of the score. The soloists are all very fine, but soprano Janice Chandler Eteme stands out for her luscious tone and her vibrant, soulful portrayal of Ramakrishna's wife; this recording comes from the beginning of her career but she's clearly an artist to watch for. The Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony Orchestra perform with spirit, but the sound of the live performance, which has plenty of volume, lacks presence and definition, especially in the densest parts of the score.

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