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Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony, premiered in 2000, is based on a short story by Franz Kafka: a visitor to a penal colony is invited to witness the execution of a man who has no idea why he stands accused without trial. The ambiguous relationships between visitor, executioner and condemned, raise provocative questions about how we view violence.

Rudolph Wurlitzer has provided a punchy libretto and Philip Glass's score, for string quintet, is heavy with arpeggio-laden emotion, which doesn’t always suit the taut psychological drama.

There are committed performances, though some of the more delicate textures of the chamber idiom are missed in the robust approach of conductor Michael Rafferty. Omar Ebrahim as The Executioner is highly wrought and operatic. Michael Bennett’s nervy Visitor gives us a soft, sensitive vocal line that floats above the fray.

This world premiere recording on the label devoted exclusively to Glass’s music has an intimate atmosphere well suited to the work, its motoric accompanimental textures finely etched and providing a dynamic backdrop for the voices.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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