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Dan LOCKLAIR (1949 - )

Orchestral Music:-
In the Autumn Days
Creation's Seeing Order
"Ere long we shall see.."
When Morning Stars

Jozef Zsapka (Guitar)
Gregory D'Agostino (Organ)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
Recorded 2-5 September 2002, Radio Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia


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Dan Locklair is the composer in residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He trained at the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York and at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. His CV is undeniably extensive but he is a name that is new to me. Rather more worryingly, I have never heard of any of the people that he studied with, such is the insularity of our Western European musical tradition. This CD contains a number of his orchestral works written between 1984 and 1995.

Locklair writes attractive, tonal music made distinctive by spicy harmonies and a fondness for rhythmic figures and ostinatos. His music evokes many influences, but always wrapped in his own voice. His music feels rather filmicly descriptive, but which asks a bit more of the listener. I can see why his CV lists so many performances and commissions, his is music which never alienates the listener but which tries not to underestimate them either.

'HUES' is a trio of short tone poems. The first makes much of repeated rhythmical figures; such jazzy ostinatos are a feature of Locklair's music. In this movement the sonorities often approach those of John Adams. The middle movement is more relaxed but in the final movement the ostinatos return, ultimately with a chorale underneath (again, this combination of ostinato and chorale is one that recurs on the disc).

'Dayspring' is described as a ‘Fanfare/Concertino for Guitar and Orchestra’. Guitar concertos are always a problem, as the balance remains tricky. For this work, it sounds as if the recording engineers have recorded the guitar rather closer than the rest of the orchestra. This has the effect of falsifying the balance and doing unfortunate things to the guitar sound. Though described as a Fanfare, this is actually quite a low key piece. Locklair's rhythmical figures are rather more understated and the orchestra rarely gets a chance to dominate for long. Audibility for the guitar necessitates solo passages. passages with lightly scored woodwind and rather effective percussion. Inevitably the spectre of Rodrigo wanders in and out of the proceedings, never being entirely exorcised. Despite the solo part being balanced by the recording engineers, guitarist Jozef Zsapka never seems to dominate proceedings though he plays admirably.

'In Autumn Days (A Symphony for Chamber Orchestra)' is arranged in five short movements which play without a break. The opening movement, with its jazzy tunes and rhythmic chords, uses rather Ives-like sonorities. The relaxed second movement leads to the third, in which a piano ostinato is counter-pointed with a chorale-type figure.

'Creation's seeing Order (A Prelude for Orchestra)' is based on a pun as the work is centred around the note C. The noisy opening develops into a series of powerful interlocking ostinatos propelled by a powerful forward motion.

'Ere long we shall see… (Concerto Brevis for Organ and Orchestra)' is a one movement work written for the Centennial Convention of the American Guild of Organists. The rather poetic title, in fact, comes from a brief essay "What the Guild of Organists Means for the Profession" written by on of the AGO founders. The piece was premiered by Gregory D'Agostino who plays the solo part here. The composer states in his programme note that all the musical material is based on the initials AGO (the musical notes A, G and B), but this piece is no dry dissertation. In fact, I was struck by how Locklair (himself an organist) has managed to make the organ partake in the rather jazzy musical material without it sounding incongruous. This is certainly no clash of the titans, and sometimes the organ simply adds discreet concertante colouring. But Gregory D'Agostino acquits himself well and is crisply rhythmic when needed.

The final piece on the disc, 'When Morning Stars Begin to Fall (A Tone Poem for Orchestra)'. The title comes from an old Southern pentatonic folk tune, 'When the Stars Begin to Fall', collected in Carolina in the 1930s. This embodies a number of influences in Locklair's music; he is Carolina based and was born there and pentatonic scales are another of the recurring motifs in the music on this disc.

This anthology was recorded in the presence of the composer. As with all such discs, I would rather like to know what the basis was for the choice of pieces. Dr. Locklair writes some admirable programme notes in the booklet, but nothing is said about why these pieces were chosen. Were they, in Dr. Locklair's view, his best orchestral pieces or perhaps just the most suitable for the forces available. It would be nice to know.

The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra plays this music admirably. Though no modernist, Dr. Locklair's scores are substantial and complex. It is no easy task performing over sixty minutes of entirely new music. The orchestra come out of the task very well, notwithstanding one or two small slips. The conductor Kirk Trevor is Principal Guest Conductor of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and this recording is part of an ongoing series of recordings of new American music. Trevor obviously has a strong commitment to this new music and on this disc he is admirably in control of Locklair's sometimes complex textures.

Most of the pieces here are either short movements or longer pieces constructed from shorter sections. I would have liked to have heard something with a rather longer breathed structure. Though attractive and well made, I felt that on repeated listening I was also missing something else, call it passion - the need for the music to be the way it is, that something that lies beneath the surface. But there is plenty to enjoy in this well crafted music, spiced with pentatonic scales and quarter-tones and jazzy rhythms.

Robert Hugill


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