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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Pipedreams Premieres,
Vol. 2

American Record Guide
November/December 2001 (232)
By Richard Blakely

WEAVER: Fanfares & Antiphons; DIRKSEN: Cantilena; LARSEN: Aspects of Glory; KERR: Arietta; SOWANDE: Obangiji; STEWART: Prelude; BOVET: Ricercare; PAULUS: Organ Concerto
Susan Klotzbach, Wilma Jensen, Diane Meredith Belcher, Mickey Thomas Terry, David Hurd, David Engen, Guy Bovet, Norman Mackie, org/George Hanson–MPR 1003–73 minutes

This is round two of new pieces form the popular radio show produced my American Public Media. Except for the works by Guy Bovet and Fela Sowande, these pieces were composed by Americans. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them, and I believe others will, too.

The two large-scale works are Libby Larsen’s Aspects of Glory and Stephen Paulus’s concerto. Both were composed in subjective forms. Larsen calls hers a series of three essays. The essay is a verbal form, the most subjective of written ones. (A review is a bargain-basement essay.) She has chosen to explore the abstract notion of glory in music; these are the first three of a projected group. While I’m unconvinced that a musical essay is a good idea as opposed to a purely musical form, I suppose it is similar to a tone poem. I certainly enjoyed listening to Larsen’s piece, wonderfully played by Diane Meredith Belcher.

One seldom hears an organ concerto these days. Like Larsen’s piece, Paulus’s concerto was recorded at a national AGO convention, where one is most likely to hear concert pieces for the organ. The orchestration works well, and the members of the Atlanta Symphony sound great. Norman Mackenzie plays the organ part with rhythmic drive. It’s a pity that this and other organ concertos are not heard more often.

Richard Wayne Dirksen’s Cantilena is a well-crafted development of a single motivic idea. It sounds lovely, and it is always a pleasure to hear Wilma Jensen play.

David Hurd performs Fela Sowande’s Obangiji. Sowande was a Nigerian who immigrated to England, where he worked in many musical areas, particularly jazz. This piece, in ABA form, explores a Nigerian folk melody. It works well.

Two especially delightful pieces are Thomas Kerr’s Arietta, a simple, unpretentious gem played by Mickey Thomas Terry, and Guy Bovet’s Ricercare played by the composer. Bovet’s piece is, as its title states, a motet for organ. It is serene and haunting in spite of the composer’s characterization of it as a failed piece.

I rate this recording outstanding. It shows that the organ still draws interest from gifted composers and that there are players out there who are happy to perform new music.