Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Dance 2 [24:45]
Satyagraha Act III Finale (1980) [7:19]
Dance 4 [18:24]
Christopher BOWERS-BROADBENT (b.1945)
Duets and Canons (1996) [21:04]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. 1-2 June 1999, Chapel of St. Augustine, Tonbridge School, Kent
NIMBUS NI 5664 [71:50]
This is an intriguing and worthwhile organ programme for the open-minded collector.
Philip Glass’s music quite often has a fairly small-scale, more intimate quality, and at first I wondered how the grand and magnificent gestures which fly out of your speakers with the opening Dance 2 were going to sustain nearly 25 minutes worth of composition with limited amounts of notes and a single rhythmic ostinato. This version of the music may inspire or infuriate you, but the irrepressible Kevin Bowyer’s powerful wrists survive the ordeal somehow. Glass’s Dance Pieces were written in the early 1970s in collaboration with choreographer Lucinda Childs and artist Sol Lewitt. If you think you know these pieces from the Philip Glass Ensemble’s recording you may find them hard to recognise in this more extrovert setting, but there is no taking away from the single-minded and purposeful nature of the music and this performance. Dance 4 is if anything more convincing than Dance 2, the greater harmonic variation creating a more impressive effect. Like Widor’s famous Toccata on some kind of high-octane mind-fuel, this has a heavy ‘wow’ factor if not a great deal more sophistication than the theme from ‘The Magic Roundabout’, and I love playing it really loud and winding up the cat.
There is something very physical about the directness of effect which the two Dance pieces have on this recording, and you may find your body has changed shape by the end of Dance 4. The arrangement Michael Riesman made of Satyagraha Act III Finale, the closing section of Philip Glass’s 1980 opera about the life of Ghandi or ‘the good bit’ as some critics of the opera might have described it, is an altogether gentler and more lyrical affair. A rising ostinato accompaniment creates a harmonic bed for the simple melodic phrases which exist above. Bowyer’s tempo is a little faster than I remember from the CBS recording of the opera, and the music might have had a more meditative or reflective quality, but it still works very well on organ.
Organist and composer Christopher Bowers-Broadbent has written the booklet notes for this release, and the explanation of Duets and Canons, here in a world premiere recording is therefore direct from the source. Bowers-Broadbent describes the nine movements as being based on the plainsong of the Mass, and makes an important point about the organ’s lack of percussive quality, the organist therefore relying on “subtle nuance of rhythm and relative length of note to achieve his expression.” This music is quite sparing and transparent, more often than not with just a few voices intertwining or sparring with each other in a context which joins the ancient feel of plainsong scales and harmonic relationships with contemporary sensibilities of a less vocal abstraction of line. This is a remarkable piece which, while perhaps not easy to grasp at first, does get under your skin in a strange way. The cadences of the opening Kyrie are relatively straightforward, with Tippett-like melodic variations and ornamented lines, but the buffeting elbows of the Credo are like a disturbing short-story, nagging at the imagination and taking up more brain-space than you would expect. The disjointed notes of the Sanctus are like a section of Messiaen’s Livre d’orgue entering the idiom of and emanating from a medieval ritual. Indeed, the entire piece has quite a ‘ritualistic’ feel to it: actions controlled and fixed by traditions and time, but with meanings forgotten and lost among the mouldering rafters of a cathedral hidden within the walls of Gormenghast.
This is by no means a conventional choice for an organ recital recording, but if you are up for a horizon-widening challenge then this is for you. Dance 2 is perhaps a little thin in compositional terms to take on the full weight of an entire performance on the magnificent Marcussen Organ in Tonbridge School, but the other pieces more than make up for this, and Dance 4 is my organ anthem of the moment and no doubt many more moments to come. A fine recording and superhuman performance from Kevin Bowyer certainly sell this CD for me.
A fine recording and superhuman performances.