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American Music from Saint Thomas
Dan LOCKLAIR (b.1949)

Brief Mass (1994) [16:51]
Pater Noster (2000) [4:14]
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)

Prelude and Allegro for organ and strings (1943) [10:28]
Randall THOMPSON (1899-1984)

The Place of the Blest cantata for treble voices and chamber orchestra (1959) [20:58]
Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys
Orchestra of Saint Luke's/Gerre Hancock
Judith Hancock (organ)
rec. May 2002, Saint Thomas Church, New York. DDD

Short playing time here so what is on offer to overcome the natural inclination to walk on by?

For a start this anthology has the feeling of a seasonal collection with the poignant fragrance of Christmas, of carols and of the mysteries.

The site has reviewed Dan Locklair's orchestral music before now. Here we hear his Brief Mass for double chorus a cappella. It is beautifully laid out and performed with every indication of scrupulous care. The idiom is plain and unadorned yet with the spiritual North fixed firmly in Medieval England. The music reminded me of the clearer less densely harmonic moments in Herbert Howells' church music. Then again the life and rhythmic surge of this music recalls the choral writing of the Welsh composer William Mathias and of Geoffrey Bush. The AMENs in the Credo sound as if they have been written by a composer who has heard the AMENs in JanŠček's Glagolytic Mass. The sweetly-spun rafter-ringing Sanctus links with John Rutter's Gloria and Requiem. It is a lovely piece and should be taken up by cathedral and church choral directors the world over. Locklair's Pater Noster is in much the same accessible style.

As far as I am aware Piston's Prelude and Allegro for strings here receives its premiere recording. The Prelude has the composure of a saint and the pulse and manner of a Finzi miniature for strings. Piston and Judith Hancock coax flames from the keyboard for the lightning stunning allegro. The strings add a Tippett and Finzi thunder to the organ's exultation. Despite its two part structure the work is presented in a single track: pity!

Randall Thompson's The Place of the Blest is a little cantata for treble voices. It sets texts by Robert Herrick and Richard Wilbur. Rather like the Locklair I thought more than once of Rutter and Finzi again. The flute pours out is benediction on the gracious in The Carol of the Rose first movement. The Pelican is a lively carol and its imagery recalls the touching Funeral March of the Sparrow in Vaughan Williamsí Five Tudor Portraits. The Place of the Blest opens with a long and placid bassoon cantilena - a beautiful piece, poignantly speaking of a heavenly realm. The dancing wax and wane of the Alleluia is intertwined most tellingly with the voices of oboe and flute. Not once does Thompson put a foot wrong in a movement whose only text is the word alleluia.

The notes provided by Koch are extensive and the sung texts are printed in full.

Short commons then - short even for an LP but the music here could well make someone's Christmas - every track is a discovery. It should be heard by all open-minded choral directors. The Randall Thompson has a grave and gracious beauty and the Locklair has the makings of a modern classic. The Piston will please everyone and is well chosen to match and intensify the surrounding experiences.

Rob Barnett



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