Stephen Douglas Burton – Symphony No. 2 “Ariel”
The “Ariel” subtitle of this symphony doesn’t refer to the lovable Disney mermaid. Rather, it’s the favorite horse of Sylvia Plath, which inspired one of her poems, and the title of the poetry collection Burton selected his texts from.
Burton matches the often disturbing beauty of Plath’s poetry with richly scored post-romantic music. He also makes this a vocal symphony, with each movement presenting a sung version of its poem.
The outer movements, “Ariel – The Night Dances,” and “The Moon and Yew Tree,” are stylistically similar, and serve to frame the middle movements. Diane Curry has a warm mezzo-soprano voice that to me sounds a little indefinite around the edges. But for the dreamlike nature of “Ariel” and “The Moon..” it actually adds to the mystery of Plath’s images.
Baritone Stephen Dickson sang all the movements in the premier of this symphony, although in this recording he alternates with Curry (save for the last movement).
The poem of the fourth movement, “Daddy,” uses Nazi imagery to describe an abusive father — from the daughter’s point of view. Burton’s decision to have a baritone sing it (when a female voice was available) makes the poem even more disturbing, I think.
Burton has created a soundscape that does justice to Plath, and complex emotions she tried to express through her poetry. To my ears, “Ariel” is the aesthetic heir to Mahler’s late symphonies.
Stephen Douglas Burton: Symphony No. 2 “Ariel”
Diane Curry, mezzo-soprano; Stephen Dickson, baritone; Syracuse Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Keene, conductor