Choral Music Media Review Print



Sacred Choral Music by Dan Locklair

September 5, 2016 - Easthampton, MA:


Gloria, Dan Locklair (b.1949): Angel Song (2014), Ave Verum Corpus (2010), En Natus Est Emmanuel (1999), Gloria (1999), The [3] Isaiah Canticles (2005), The Lord Bless You and Keep You (2008), Lord Jesus, Think On Me (2006), O Sacrum Convivium (1999), Pater Noster (2000), Remembrance (2006), St. Peter's Rock (1999), and Ubi Caritas (2003). All works but Gloria: Sospiri: Christopher Watson, dir., with Jeremy Cole, organ, in Angel Song, Lord Jesus[…], Remembrance, St. Peter's Rock, Ubi Caritas; with Ellie Lovegrove, trumpet, in Remembrance and St. Peter's Rock. For Gloria: Winchester College Chapel Choir, Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir, 17 additional singers, brass octet (4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba), 2 percussionists, Malcolm Archer, cond. (In the interest of space, vocal soloists are not listed here, though they and the instrumentalists are listed in the accompanying booklet.) Convivium CR023, © 2016, TT: 73:38, £8.49 (CD not [yet?] available in US; download $9.49 @ Amazon.com). (The above listing is in alphabetical, not performance order.)

The title of this CD is misleading, because it is in fact a compilation of 12 works (one of which has three movements) performed by three different choruses under two different conductors, a cappella or with different accompanying instrumentations, and recorded in two different venues. The Gloria itself, although the longest piece,and the one using the most numerous forces, the brightest in its instrumentation, and the most exuberant one by the very nature of its text, occupies only 14:32 minutes (i.e., considerably less than ¼ of the CD's total time) near the middle of the disk (Tr. 7); the three-movement Isaiah Chronicles (Trs 2-4) is a close second at 12:43 minutes. The remainder of the single-track pieces range from 1:50 minutes (The closing benediction (The Lord Bless […], Tr. 14*) to 7:21 (St. Peter's Rock, Tr. 11), with Remembrance (Tr. 13) close behind it at 6:41, and with most in the three- to five-minute range, and O Sacrum Convivium (Tr. 8) the only other short one at 2:39. Although producer Andrew King's introductory note on page [3] of the accompanying booklet makes this clear, a more descriptive or representative title, such as my "Sacred Choral Music," would have been more appropriate, or alternatively, could have been used as a clarifying sub-title.

The sequence of the performance order is well planned in terms of the lengths of the pieces, the variety among the works themselves, their music and the musicians required, and the progression of the texts, as in a service, or from Old Testament to New. This further demonstrates the composer's extraordinary skill in crafting music that follows and supports its text, while at the same time being both contemporary and tonal, thus remaining solidly within the long history of sacred choral music, Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, and Protestant, with settings over the course of several centuries for many of these, although in some instances – Pater Noster and Ubi Caritas in particular – the melodies are strikingly different from the traditional ones to which we are accustomed. This superb sensitivity to text is most evident in the a cappella works and is particularly notable in the Isaiah Canticles because of their length. The addition of an instrument – organ or trumpet – effective and pleasing though it is, cannot help but obscure that sensitivity a bit, if for no other reason than that the instruments take the listener's attention away from it. The language of the titles of the works indicates that of the sung texts except for St. Peter's Rock, whose Latin Antiphon opens it and follows all its English verses; this work puts Locklair's textual sensitivity on brilliant display and has proven to be one of my favorites, along with Remembrance, a setting of the Beatitudes that also uses an antiphon.

Some clarification may be needed for American readers concerning English schools: a "college" is a secondary school, not a post-secondary one, and a "grammar" school is an elementary one; both are "public," but that is what we call private, and in addition their students wear uniforms. Winchester College was founded in 1382 and is Anglican church-affiliated (I assume with nearby Winchester Cathedral, founded by its then bishop William of Wykeham?); the select organization of 16 treble choristers, created at its founding, is called the Quiristers: they form the top line of the Chapel Choir, if I understand the descriptive note on the booklet's p. [9] correctly. The choir also tours and has been to the USA. The Portsmouth Grammar School has over 40 music ensembles; the Chamber Choir is the premier vocal one of the upper or Senior level. The school's Associate Musicians, with whom the ensembles perform regularly, are the London Mozart Players. Few if any schools in this country can boast such music programs; see what the lower or junior level at PGS offers here. This choir also commissions works and tours regularly, but understandably, has not come here. Locklair is fortunate to have been able to arrange for such fine singers to bring to life his lovely music!

The attractive 32-page (no pages bear numbers) full-color booklet is well written and organized. Track listings with timings (TT is not printed, however, and that in tiny print on the edge of the disk itself is incorrect.) are found on p. [2], facing the aforementioned introductory note. The photo and bio of the composer are found on pp. [4-5], and notes about the choirs and their directors together with photos, the last a two-page spread taken during the recording session of the Gloria, occupy pp. [6-15]. Notes by Locklair about each work, identified by its track number, and giving full details about its text, author/origin, and writing, followed by those about the music and the date and occasion of its composition, a full page for each work (two each for Gloria , Isaiah Chronicles, and St. Peter's Rock), followed by the texts themselves, with English translations in Italic print for those sung in Latin, fill pp. [16-30]. P. [31] gives the information about the recording dates and venues and the acknowledgements. The back cover (p. [32]) gives a summary listing of the performers and the recording credits. Entirely missing, however, are the rosters of all the choral groups. Some CD manufacturers seem not to understand that the accompanying booklet is the equivalent of the printed concert program book for a live performance, and ALL musicians need to be listed; the omission of their names is poor etiquette and an inherent inappropriate affront to them, disrespectful of their talents, work, and efforts.

Choral music lovers will certainly want to have this CD in their collection; it is remarkably glorious music superbly performed. But some words of caution need to be given: it is recorded in very resonant venues where it is often difficult to distinguish individual words and understand texts in a live performance, and where exterior noises do not intrude to interfere, so playing it in a modern American home, where such silence is often difficult to find, may present some real comprehension and appreciation challenges, especially in quieter moments, such as the ultra-quiet benediction (The Lord Bless […]), so listeners will likely need to raise the volume on their devices and want to follow the texts to truly appreciate the settings. It's the aural equivalent of attempting to view and appreciate in a modern city environment the kind of starlit sky I routinely saw in the rural countryside in my youth. But the texts are there, and, unlike with a live performance, repeat listenings are easily achievable, so you can allow the music to grow on you, as it surely will.

*Performed here with a treble soloist rather than the alternative trumpet accompaniment; it is not clear what text the latter would support [or replace?]).