Tapestries; Choral Music of Dan Locklair, CD 1: "Alleluia Dialogues," "Break Away," "A Christmas Carol," "Dona Nobis Pacem," Holy Canticles, "Instant Culture," On Cats, "Proclaim the Lord," Three Christmas Motets; Bel Canto Company (Greensboro, NC), David Pegg, dir., Ann Doyle, piano (in accompanied works); CD 2: Brief Mass, Changing Perceptions, "Epitaph," "For Amber Waves," "Tapestries," Windswept (the trees); The Choral Art Society (Portland, ME), Robert Russell, cond., Prometheus Chamber Players, Shirley Curry, piano; MSR Classics, MS 1463, © 2014, TT 132:12 (61:46 + 70:26). $19.95. Works are listed in alphabetical, not recorded order.
These are digital re-masterings of earlier releases on the Peterboro, NH-based Gasparo label, GSCD-325 (1997) and GSCD-306 (1996) respectively; both appear to be out of print, the former is completely sold out, a very few copies of the latter may be found. The set offers a broad overview of Charlotte native and Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem) Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music Dan Locklair's varied output in this realm composed between 1978 and 1993. The works are a mixture of sacred and secular pieces, setting biblical and ritual texts and poetic ones, mostly contemporary and serious, some humorous. The music is all tonal, readily accessible, and aurally and intellectually interesting and enjoyable for listeners, and seemingly (to my ears as a choral singer) not difficult in execution for the vocalists. Except the "Magnificat" in Holy Canticles, "Dona Nobis Pacem," Three Christmas Motets, and Brief Mass, which are in Latin (with English translations provided in the accompanying booklet), all texts are in English.
The recorded order, which avoids consecutive works of the same mood and type on both CDs, is such that attention is easily maintained because of the diversity. There are short, single-movement works ranging from about 1-1/2 to 6-1/2 minutes in length, such as "Epitaph" and "Tapestries" respectively. Longer works range from the three-movement Holy Canticles and Three Christmas Motets to the nine-movement Windswept (the trees). The two choral song cycles, On Cats and Changing Perceptions, contain five poem settings each. "Instant Culture" is a 12-minute choral drama, with libretto and lyrics by Alicia Carpenter (also the poet of "Break Away"), featuring solo, choral, and group interchanges, and complete with stage directions, admittedly somewhat difficult to fully appreciate without the visual component. There is also a good variety among a cappella and accompanied pieces, and variety in the types of accompaniment and the handling thereof. The musical styles are also widely diverse. All the music is distinctly modern, but entirely without atonality and dissonance.
The performances are all impeccable, with excellent control of dynamics and crystal clear diction. These are clearly professional level and quality organizations even if they are not internationally known names, like the Robert Shaw Chorale, for example. In a few instances, particularly in "Instant Culture," the volume level of the microphones appears not to have been high enough for solo voices to be adequately captured to be readily understood.
The simple and straightforward 24-page booklet features an attractive front cover with a background that looks like an assemblage of variously sized decorative tiles in beiges, browns, and grays, with the title in a large white cursive script, subtitle and composer name in white block print, and choruses' and directors' names in yellow block print in steadily decreasing sizes superimposed on them; the label's standard logo is in its customary upper-right-corner position. A color photo of the composer with the ubiquitous pipe in his mouth in a wide tile-like frame in browns graces the back.
Track listings with timings, one page per CD, on light gray tile-like backgrounds are found on pages 2 and 3. Program notes and texts for the works on CD1, each work's text (and translation where needed) immediately following its note, are on pages 4-15, and for CD 2, on pages 15-22, following the same format, all black type on white. To my mind, this is eminently preferable to the format that so many labels (and concert programs) use, which groups all the notes and then all the texts together, forcing the listener becoming acquainted with the music to do a lot of page flipping. (We won't discuss what that produces in a live performance!). Locklair's bio fills the remainder of page 22; brief ones of the choruses and their directors and the Prometheus Chamber Players are found on page 23, with the list of the publishers of the music in its lower right corner. Missing are brief bios of the pianists, who are actually performing in some of the works, so they are not merely rehearsal pianists being gratefully acknowledged in print for their assiduous work.
At such a reasonable price, this is a fine purchase, especially for choral directors and singers wanting to expand their acquaintance with and knowledge of recent repertoire. Choral music lovers will also likely find plenty to enjoy in it.
Note: For a review of Locklair's organ music, click here.