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Dan LOCKLAIR (b. 1949)
Symphony of Seasons (Symphony no.1) (2002) [31:06]
Lairs of Soundings (A Triptych for Soprano and String Orchestra) (1982) [10:58]
Phoenix and Again (An Overture for Full Orchestra) (1982) [5:51]
In Memory – H.H.L. (for String Orchestra) (2005) [5:16]
Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (2004) [22:03]
Janeanne Houston (soprano); Jacquelyn Bartlett (harp)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
rec. 11-15 September 2006, Concert Hall of the Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia. DDD

This is, as the liner-notes suggest, a CD of attractive and colourful music. Though most of the works are very recent, Locklair writes in an idiom that is perfectly accessible to anyone who has even a quite limited knowledge of 20th century music. His influences are fairly easy to discern – not only Copland, but other more international voices such as Martinů and Shostakovich occasionally shine through. However these soon fade from the attention, as Locklair has his own strong stylistic personality.
The Symphony of Seasons is, naturally, in four movements, proceeding from a ceremonial opening ‘Autumn’ to a warm and expansive ‘Summer’, via the longest movement, ‘Winter’, and a sprightly ‘Spring’. Locklair uses some well-known melodies along the way, notably the Lutheran chorale Nun danket alle Gott, which is heard in ‘Autumn’, and the round Sumer is icumen in, which duly appears in the finale.
The most striking section for me is ‘Winter’, an extended slow movement cast in the form of a Chaconne, that is to say variants over a repeated harmonic sequence. Though I could probably have done without the wind machine - especially after the summer we’ve had in the UK - I nevertheless found this a powerfully atmospheric movement. Also striking is the restraint with which ‘Summer’ is treated; it begins in a magically hushed vein, with a fine, broad melody, and, though Sumer is icumen in brings life and dance rhythms into the music, it dies away in an atmosphere of mystery.
The earliest work on the disc is Lairs of Soundings, a three movement piece for soprano and strings dating from 1982. Movements 1 and 3 are settings of parts of poems by Ursula Le Guin, and are both fraught, nervous pieces. They are offset by a strikingly lovely slow central section, in which the voice is wordless, the ‘text’ being pure vowel sounds. Attractive music, though the work as a whole seems a little short – perhaps it needs one more movement. Janeanne Houston is the soloist, well able to deal with the very high tessitura, but slightly unsteady in tone and intonation here and there.
Phoenix and Again is a short, straightforward occasional piece, while In Memory – H.H.L. is an elegiac movement for string orchestra paying tribute to the composer’s mother. Like all the music on the disc, it is well crafted and carefully planned. To claim, however, as the disc’s conductor Kirk Trevor apparently has done, that this is a ‘worthy successor to the Barber Adagio’ is the sort of wild assertion that really does the piece no favours at all, and does call the conductor’s musical judgement somewhat into question.
The concluding item on this enjoyable and entertaining disc is the three movement Harp Concerto, delivered with great aplomb by Jacquelyn Bartlett. This is a charming work, with a beautiful central slow movement, Variants, in which the soloist often provides a soft yet sumptuous accompaniment to woodwind and string melodies. This underlined for me the impression that Locklair is most himself in his slow music, where he often achieves a rarefied atmosphere that is very affecting.
To be fair to Kirk Trevor - having taken him to task above! - he does a fine job of steering the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra through this inevitably unfamiliar music. They mostly play very well, with some excellent woodwind playing. The brass occasionally show the strain, particularly in more demanding parts of the Symphony, and the strings sound as if they could perhaps do with a couple more desks in each section. But these shortcomings are not serious, and the strong personality of Locklair’s music is projected successfully throughout.
Gwyn Parry-Jones
Naxos American Classics page


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