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Dan Locklair: Chamber Music: Reynolda Reflections (Melissa Suhr, flute, Steve Estes, cello, & Robert Brewer, piano); In the Almost Evening (Janeanne Houston, soprano, with Craig Rine, clarinet, & Robert Jorgensen, piano), & "…the moon commands..." (Houston & Jorgensen with Klaus Liebetanz, flute, David Robbins, percussion, & Joseph Pollard White, conductor); Music for Quince, & Dream Steps (Mallarmé Chamber Players); & Constellations (George Ritchie, organ, & Albert Romero, percussion). Albany Records Troy 701/2 (2 CDs) ©2004. 57:38 & 49:15. $33.98. http://www.albanyrecords.com/
In a letter to his father about aspects of the composition of his piano concertos K.413-415, Mozart wrote , "(They) are in fact midway between too difficult and too easy – they are very brilliant, fall agreeably on the ear, though of course without becoming trivial. Here and there only connoisseurs can derive satisfaction, but in such a way that the non-connoisseur will be pleased without knowing why." Mozart's comment could just as well apply as a summation of this delightful and wide-ranging compilation of chamber music by Dan Locklair (b. Charlotte, 1949), currently Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. He holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. He is a prolific composer in many forms and is widely performed. Recent reviews in CVNC covered a substantial commission by the NC Symphony and an all-Locklair chamber music evening that inaugurated the new Babcock Hall in Reynolda House's new wing. Many of the works on this set were heard in that concert, which featured the Winston-Salem debut of the Durham-based Mallarmé Chamber Players.
Locklair has said that the Mallarmé Chamber Player's "own" his Dream Steps, a dance suite for flute, viola, and harp (1993). During the Christmas season, WUNC-TV repeats showings of its short film, "Christmas at Duke Chapel," for which the suite serves as the sound track; it is probably the composer's best-known work in his home state. Its five lively movements, ranging from barcarolles and a sarabande to "Bars of Blues," are played by Anna Ludwig Wilson, flute, Jonathan Bagg, viola, and Jacquelyn Bartlett, harp. More breezy, light, and swirling music would be difficult to imagine. Wilson is joined by other Mallarmé players – Kelly Burke, clarinet, Hsiao-mei Ku, violin, and Thomas Warburton, piano – for Music for Quince, called "A Tone Poem." It was inspired by Wallace Stevens' poem "Peter Quince at the Clavier," a retelling of the story of Susannah and the Elders. The strongly-contrasted instruments make effective use of color to portray emotions, and the shrill voices of the elders are unmistakable. (This performance of Dream Steps is a reissue from an earlier Mallarmé recording.)
Five paintings on display in the Reynolda House – Worthington Whittredge's "The Old Hunting Grounds" (1864), Thomas Hart Benton's "Bootleggers" (1927), Georgia O'Keefe's "Pool in the Woods, Lake George" (1922), Charles Sheeler's "Conversation Piece" (1932), and Elliott Daingerfield's "Spirit of the Storm" (c.1912) – inspired the composition of Reynolda Reflections (2000). Locklair is well known for his compositions for organ and for chorus that draw upon the literature of the past. His "writing for the connoisseur" comes into play in this piece through use of octatonic, pentatonic, whole-tone, and chromatic scales. He also quotes Thomas Tallis' "Third mode melody" from Archbishop Parker's Psalter. This tune is more widely known in a famous set of variations by Vaughan Williams.
The two selections that feature voice reflect Locklair's penchant for literary sources for inspiration. In the Almost Evening, a nocturne for soprano, clarinet, and piano, is a setting of three poems by Canada's acclaimed Joy Kogawa. The voice, hovering above rippling piano arpeggios interwoven by the clarinet, is used conventionally to convey the words and as a wordless instrument in "In the Almost Evening." The singer and clarinet lines slither about each other metaphorically in "Snake Dance." "Breezes" serves as a recapitulation of the opening, with both clarinet and singer in a vocalise above a repeated undulating piano figure leading to a text about loneliness and rejection. Finely nuanced dynamics and phrasing are joined with excellent diction by soprano Janeanne Houston*, ably supported by Rine and Jorgensen. "…the moon commands…," another nocturne, for flute, soprano, percussion, and piano, makes the maximum use of the possibilities for texture. The voice, used both instrumentally and to convey the texts, is enhanced by percussion and piano, weaving a magic spell evoking bells. There is an extended duet for flute and piano. The texts for the one-movement work are based on "Taken" and "Premonitory," from PARABOLA RASA by D. R. Fosso. There is a hint of the Far East in some of the scoring, rather like the way Ravel and Mahler incorporated Asian elements into their music.
Perhaps only the kitchen sink and wrecked car parts are missing from Constellations, a concerto for organ and percussion. "Connoisseurs" may note widespread use of pandiatonic harmonic materials to bind the four movements together. Others will bask in the complex weave of timbres and textures and find new pleasures with every replaying. The sense of the instruments and the performance in its specific acoustic are well captured, and there is nothing wanting in the tight ensemble and playing of Ritchie and Romero.
Despite the wide variety of ensembles and the venues that were used, all of the performances are excellent, and the recorded sound is most satisfactory. This is a welcome exploration of chamber music beyond the usual string quartet or strings-with-piano format. All the works withstand the test of repeated listening, revealing different facets with each hearing.
*For reviews of other recordings by Houston, click here.
Note: For much more information, see the composer's website, at http://www.wfu.edu/~locklair/. For an interview, see http://www.mvdaily.com/articles/2005/01/locklair1.htm.