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Recital Media Review Print

The Organ Music of Dan Locklair

March 27, 2011 - Williamsburg, MA:

The Music of Dan Locklair: Æolian Sonata, "Celebration," In Mystery and Wonder (The Casavant Diptych), "Phoenix Processional," Rubrics, Salem Sonata. Marilyn Keiser, organ (Casavant Frères Op. 3856); Loft  LRCD-1110, © 2010, TT 69:55, $16.99.

Dan Locklair, an organist since the age of 14, is a native of Charlotte and Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Marilyn Keiser is Chancellor's Professor of Music Emerita at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University, where she taught organ for 25 years, and Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Church, both in Bloomington. Both had some of their musical training at the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in NYC, and both hold doctorates, she from Union, in Sacred Music, and he from Eastman, in Rochester, NY. Consequently she has an innate understanding and is a superb proponent of his music. The instrument is in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Indianapolis and was designed and installed in 2007 to accompany worship, so it is ideally suited to these works, listed above in alphabetical, not playing order, which are all inspired by Biblical or other spiritual texts.

All of these works, which are among his more popular ones – there are enough other organ works to easily fill another CD – were commissions, stretching over two decades from 1985 to 2004, the latter being In Mystery and Wonder, commissioned by the Casavant Frères Organ Company of Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, to celebrate its 125th anniversary. The commission was not an easy one to fulfill: two essentially free-standing movements that could also form a suite were required, the first (which has 125 measures, though that was not a requirement) to be easy enough for any church organist to play, the second more demanding. The piece, either one or both movements, was premièred on Casavant instruments in multiple locations around the world during the 13 November 2004 anniversary weekend. The text of the titles of the movements: 1) Aria "God moves in a mysterious way…" 2) Toccata "His wonders to perform" comes from a hymn/poem by 18th century English writer William Cowper.

Some readers may have heard the première of the Salem Sonata, composed in late 2003 for the inaugural concert in March 2004 on the reconstructed 1800 David Tannenberg pipe organ, now in Gray Auditorium of the Visitors Center, but until 1910 in the Home Moravian Church on Salem Square, in Old Salem, reviewed by Richard Parsons. You can read there a description of each of its movements. It undoubtedly sounds very different on this Casavant. Other readers may have heard the première of the 2002 Æolian Sonata, composed for the 70th anniversary of the installation in the Duke University Chapel of the Æolian organ, the last product the NYC-based company made before its merger with the Boston-based E.M. Skinner Company, and its only sanctuary organ, in the 2 June recital that I reviewed.

All the works use their source texts to create appropriate atmospheres, moods, and sounds without seeming like hymns. Many are contemplative, reflective in nature, but some are bright, celebratory, and joyful, and there is a balanced alternation in the multi-movement works and the disk as a whole. Some bring to mind a Bach Chorale Prelude style; others evoke some of the shorter brilliant pieces of the late 19th-century French symphonic-organ school. The longest single piece is the 12-minute "Celebration," with the 7.5-minute "Aria" movement of In Mystery and Wonder the second longest. Most movements are in the two- to four-minute range. This is truly beautiful music, and one could not ask for a finer rendering of it than Keiser's. The sound quality is excellent, but as I have found with other organ recordings, a few of the softer passages are difficult to hear in the ambient noise of a residence that would not exist inside a church, whose architecture would tend to amplify them in a way a home's cannot.

The attractive booklet contains track listings with timings (Total timings are not provided for multi-movement works.) on the inside of the front cover, followed by fine notes by the composer about the works, a note about the organ and the list of its pipes, brief bios of Locklair and Keiser with accompanying photos, technical notes about the recording process, and credits on the inside of the back cover. Black and white photos of the composer, the church interior, the organ and its console are scattered throughout. A color photo of the composer graces the front cover and one of the organ in the chancel fills the back, and close-up color photos of the pipes and some of the church's stained glass windows grace the inside of the paper case. It is a much more attractive product presentation that the standard 'jewel-case' variety. Curiously either the CD case has an incorrect catalogue number on its spine, or that on the CD, on the booklet, and in the logo above the bar code on the back is incorrect; I have assumed the spine's to be wrong.

Locklair's music is well- and widely loved in general. He set the poem by Maya Angelou, "On the Pulse of Morning," commissioned for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, for narrator, chorus, and orchestra in 1995 under the title Since Dawn. One of the movements of Rubrics, one of the most frequently programmed pieces of late 20th century American organ music, was performed at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan. The original version of the "Phoenix Processional," preceded by the "Fanfare," for organ and brass quartet, was used for many years as the commencement piece at the Juilliard School in NYC. He was named "Composer of the Year" by the American Guild of Organists in 1996, its centennial year. The Greater Greensboro Chapter of the AGO has commissioned him to write a concerto for organ and orchestra. We look forward to its completion and to hearing it. Meanwhile, begin your holiday shopping early with copies of this for your music-loving friends.