Search - Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, Leo Sowerby :: American Works for Organ and Orchestra

American Works for Organ and Orchestra
Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, Leo Sowerby
American Works for Organ and Orchestra
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1


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CD Details

All Artists: Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, Leo Sowerby, Michael Colgrass, Carlos Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra, David Schrader
Title: American Works for Organ and Orchestra
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Cedille
Release Date: 6/18/2002
Genre: Classical
Styles: Forms & Genres, Concertos, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 675754516123

CD Reviews

Three splashy organ works in the heroic American mold...
Bob Zeidler | Charlton, MA United States | 01/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"...and something quite a bit different.

While concert halls often have pipe organs installed (making it possible to perform, for example, the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony, or the Second and Eighth Symphonies of Mahler), not all do, and, of those that do, more than a few are sub-standard. If one were to assume that some concert hall managements don't take their pipe organ installations seriously, one would be correct.

Fortunately, the powers that be who administer and manage Chicago's Orchestra Hall thought differently a few years back, and underwrote the installation of a new pipe organ specifically designed and built for the hall and its acoustics by Casavant Frères. While hardly the largest of its type, at "only" three manuals, forty-four stops and sixty ranks, it suffers not a whit from a lack of sheer acoustical power output or flexibility of voicing, it can easily overpower a full symphony orchestra if need be, and it is very thoughtfully designed and built to absolutely minimize - in fact eliminate - extraneous noise from its blower system, thanks to a rather radical "high wind pressure" system largely responsible for the organ's acoustical power capabilities.

This new Cedille release is the debut appearance of this Chicago Orchestra Hall organ on CD. And it is a stunning release, designed to show off the organ's capabilities in a nicely unusual set of works for organ and orchestra, covering a half century of compositions by American composers.

The first three works, by Barber, Piston and Sowerby, all date from mid-20th century (give or take a decade), and largely reflect the "American school" (both neoromanticism and neoclassicism) of the period.

Samuel Barber's "Toccata Festiva" was originally written as a dedication piece for a new organ installation in Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1960, and received its premiere that year under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. Written in Barber's best neoromantic style, it is a fitting piece for such a dedication, full of large gestures and brilliant writing for both organ and orchestra. Here, this opening track serves well for "dedicating" the new Casavant Frères organ.

Walter Piston's "Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings" (1943) is in his thoroughly accessible neoclassical style. The Prelude is a gentle threnody, mainly for the strings but with nice underpinnings by the organ. The Allegro is full of characteristic Piston contrapuntal devices, with nice "call and response" writing for the organ and the strings. While hardly "astringent" (except perhaps by comparison to the works that precede and follow it), this brief Piston work serves as an excellent "palate cleanser" for the Sowerby work.

Leo Sowerby (1895 - 1968) was a very prolific composer, with well over 500 works attributed to him, 50 of them for organ alone or with orchestra. This latter fact most surely makes him the most prolific American composer for the instrument, on a par with such French romantics as Dupré, Vierne, Widor and the Belgian Jongen, all them his contemporaries. Essentially a neoromantic in the mold of Barber (or, perhaps better yet, Howard Hanson), his concert music (as opposed to his liturgical music) is seldom heard in concert halls these days. This is unfortunate, because the work offered up here - "Concertpiece for Organ and Orchestra" (1951) - is every bit as good as those of the 20th century French school. It is very much a virtuoso showpiece for the organist, of a nature that I can imagine the likes of Virgil Fox championing it. Unfortunately, I know of no other recording - by Fox or any other organist - of this Sowerby masterpiece. Fortunately, it doesn't matter, because this performance is simply splendid.

The concluding work by Michael Colgrass is indeed "something quite a bit different:" Written in 1990, it is an absolutely stunning work. A "coloristic soundscape" in five parts depicting the Arctic Inuit and their lives and legends (in which the Snow Walker is the image of death and resurrection), the work - if you'll excuse the expression - pulls out all the stops, both for the soloist and for the orchestra. Some of the "environmental" effects are simply marvelous, such as Colgrass's writing for the French horn to create a wolf's howl. Throughout, Colgrass treats the organ as "just another instrument of the orchestra" with its own set of capabilities and timbres; while it is "front and center" in the piece, this is no conventional concerted work. And, while "modern" in every respect, "Snow Walker" is hardly inaccessible. Atmospheric and, in spots, mildly dissonant: yes; inaccessible: no. Quite enjoyable, in fact.

In all four works, David Schrader, the organist, acquits himself splendidly; he is clearly a highly skilled instrumentalist. And Chicago's "second orchestra," the Grant Park Orchestra, directed by Carlos Kalmar, is equally accomplished. The sound throughout is state-of-the-art.

This is truly an auspicious debut album for this instrument, as well as another terrific Cedille release of seldom-heard music in absolutely stunning sound. Cedille Records is the brainchild of James S. Ginsberg (son of the Supreme Court justice). The label would appear to specialize in audiophile-quality recordings of music "on the Chicago scene" (although this "thumbnail" description is probably too limiting). This release fits that description to a "T". I (for one) am looking forward to other works for organ and orchestra, employing this splendid new organ in one of America's finest concert halls. And the two works by Sowerby and Colgrass have certainly piqued my interest where these two all-too-seldomly programmed composers are concerned. I've already got a Sowerby organ music CD, as well as some different (and probably unusual) Colgrass music, queued up for near-future listening.

Bob Zeidler"