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Stephen Douglas Burton (b.1943): Symphony No. 2 "Ariel" / Diane Curry, mezzo-soprano, Stephen Dickson, baritone

Album Summary

>Burton, Stephen Douglas : Symphony no 2 ("Ariel')
Performer Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

This CD release restores the music of Stephen Douglas Burton to the recorded archive. Burton was a major figure in the 1970s and 80s (his symphonic works were commissioned and played by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Israel Philharmonic and championed by such conductors as Sir Georg Solti, Antal Dorati and Hans Werner Henze, and his opera, The Duchess of Malfi, was called "America's finest opera" on the National Public Radio broadcast of the Wolftrap premiere. Burton was born in Whittier, California in 1943. His Symphony No. 2 "Ariel" sets poetry of Sylvia Plath and features Diane Curry, mezzo-soprano; and in his only commercially available recording, the great baritone Stephen Dickson. Burton's symphony, completed in 1975, is an ambitious and dazzlingly colorful work in 5 movements. The recording is a newly mastered performance of the long out of print 1978 LP.

American Record Guide, March/April 2015
They did give a web address that works, and Plath's work is readily available, of course. Burton's harmonic language and manner of writing allows for little emotion to come through; there are some dramatic peaks.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Syracuse, NY (04/1978).


The Plath Symphony

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.
Submitted on 10/22/14 by RGraves321 
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Works Details

>Burton, Stephen Douglas : Symphony no 2 ("Ariel')
  • Performer: Diane Curry (Mezzo Soprano)
  • Conductor: Christopher Keene
  • Ensemble: Syracuse Symphony Orchestra
  • Running Time: 50 min. 42 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Orchestral
  • Written: 1975