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Contemporary Music, Orchestral Music Media Review Print

Dan Locklair: Symphony of Seasons

January 9, 2008 - Raleigh, NC:

Symphony of Seasons, by Dan Locklair: Symphony of Seasons (Symphony No.1) (2002); Lairs of Soundings (A Triptych for Soprano and String Orchestra) (1982); Phoenix and Again (An Overture for Full Orchestra) (1983); In Memory — H.H.L. (For String Orchestra) (2005); Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (2004): Janeanne Houston, Soprano; Jacquelyn Bartlett, Harp; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, Conductor; Recorded 11-15 September, 2006, in Concert Gall of the Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia: Publisher Subito Music Corporation; Distributor address www.naxos.com (American Classics series); 12 tracks, price $8.99.

This CD is a rich sampling of the orchestral music of Dan Locklair, but it does not represent nearly all his output. He is also the composer of an opera, a ballet, songs, chamber music, and many choral pieces. The numerous awards he has received attest to the high quality of his work, and his music has an enviable international reputation. My lengthy cruising through the Internet clearly indicated to me great interest in Locklair and his music

This native Carolinian, born in Charlotte in 1949, has been a professional organist since he was fourteen and has played in the prestigious venues of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. His academic credentials are impressive: the Master of Sacred music degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Eastman School of Music in Rochester. His teachers in composition and organ are distinguished. His experience as a college teacher began in Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and continues at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, where he is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music.

All the orchestral compositions included on Symphony of Seasons reveal a composer of great originality and imagination who is the possessor of admirable compositional technique. He has as well an appreciation of vivid instrumental colors and their effectiveness in expressing ideas and emotions. The four-movement title piece on the disc is an excellent representation of these qualities. In it, Locklair is clearly motivated by the words of eighteenth-century English poet James Thomson's poem "The Seasons" and brings to bear all his skills in evoking the latter's refined realization of the sights and sounds of the passing year.

Although all the movements in this Symphony of Seasons are as deeply satisfying to the ear and the intellect of the listener as Locklair's art can make them, I find my greatest pleasure in the second movement, "Winter," and the final movement, "Summer," and for quite different reasons. I am drawn particularly to the artistry and the organization of "Winter," the construction of which is brilliantly shaped by a dark-colored twelve-measure chaconne progression in the strings, repeated twelve times (for obvious reasons). This progression supports the development of a theme played by the English horn that underscores Thomson's melancholy depiction of this dark season. The construction, the English horn melody, and the prevailing dark tone of this movement satisfy all my expectations of Locklair's treatment of Thomson's words. For "Summer," Locklair evokes, with strings and winds and a quickening tempo, the glory of the season as Thomson sees it, with its infectious gaiety, lush warmth, and the presence of love and romance. The composer also makes ingenious use of the thirteenth-century English four-part canon "Summer is icumen in" in counterpoint with the familiar "In the Good Summertime" to bring the joyous music to a full restatement of the opening string melody.

The second fairly long work on this disc, the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, is also an enjoyable musical experience. The first movement, called by Locklair "Dialogues (Heralding and Joyous)," is a vibrant sonata form which has a first section of a developmental nature, a middle section of an expository nature, and a final section that has much in common with a recapitulation. The music for the orchestra is exciting, with its shifts from asymmetrical to symmetrical rhythms and Locklair's use of the Mixolydian mode for the melodic structure of the piece. The harp, played by Jacquelyn Bartlett, is given an expressive melody in the second section thatreveals the skill of the player. The second movement, called by the composer "Variants (Still and Gently Moving)," is more difficult harmonically than the first, based as it is on a twelve-tone chromatic scale that the harp develops into a melody of great originality. Locklair calls the third movement "Contrasts (Very Quick and Vibrant)," and this designation is accurate. Here he uses the Lydian mode as the harmonic center in the opening and then moves to a second, highly contrasting section, slow in tempo, centered on the Pentatonic scale, and lyrical in nature. The music of the first part of the movement closes the concerto with vivacity and color. Bartlett's part in this work demands much skill and receives the full attention of this excellent harpist.

The three other pieces on the CD are well worth the time and attention of the listener. I have enjoyed all three. As a singer I take pleasure in the superb performance of Janeanne Houston, whose powerful soprano, with its high tessitura, was more than a match for the difficult music of Lairs of Soundings (A Triptych for Soprano and String Orchestra). All three song settings are worthy of many hearings. The poetry of Ursula K. LeGuin must have been a challenge to Locklair's imagination as he sought to find the appropriate musical setting for the three poems he chose. He succeeded admirably. My favorite part of this triptych, however, is the middle, in which the soprano sings well-placed vowels instead of inspired words.

The two brief orchestral pieces are lyrical and deeply expressive. "Phoenix and Again," for full orchestra, composed in 1983 to celebrate Wake Forest's sesquicentennial year, is a beautiful setting of the school's alma mater. "In Memory — H.H.L.," for string orchestra, is a tender, elegiac and above all sincere musical statement of sorrow the composer felt upon his mother's death. Although his feelings were obviously real, I sense that he was able to stand a safe distance from the music, so that his musician's mind could find the perfect expression for his loss.

I recommend that those who love inspired orchestral music will not wait to acquire this CD of which North Carolinians and Americans as a whole may be justifiably proud.