Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ken Cowan has CD on "Pro Organo": Major works by Willan and Karg-Elert

At the reception last Sunday after Ken Cowan’s organ concert, I did pick up his CD for $20, on the Pro Organo label (CD 7253). Cowan plays at The Great Organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
The biggest work on the CD is the last one, the 17-minute “Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue” (in E-flat Minor according to my Casio) by Healey Willan, a British composer who wanted to prove he would write an organ piece more overwhelming than anything by Max Reger.  The conclusion is loud and brazen, recalling orchestral conclusions from Arnold  Bax and Havergal Brian, proving that English music can be loud and virile when it needs to be (like at a royal wedding). Yet the conclusion is a bit static, without the daring harmonic adventures that might have even added a little more sense of apocalypse.
The other big piece on the CD is “Fuge, Kanzone und Epilog" (from “Dritte Sinfonische Kanzone”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 12 minutes, Op. 85 #3, with Lisa Shihoten, violin and two sopranos (Anna Lenti and Madeline Apple Healy), Mary Ann Hewlett as mezzo-soprano, and Elizabeth Hermanson as alto, conducted by Paulo Bordignon.  The vocal parts are wordless, and the Epilogue is quiet, again recalling the quiet epilogues on about three of the Bax symphonies.  The CD also offers the Karg-Elert piece “The Soul of the Lake”, Op. 96 #1.
There are “Deux Esquisses”, Op. 41, by Marcel Dupre (neither as striking as the Cortege that I learned).  Also, there are two pieces by Maurice Durufle, the “Prelude sur ‘Introit de l’Epiphanie”, Op. 13, and the “Fugue sur le theme cu Carillon des heures de la Cathedrale de Soissons”, Op. 12.  I’ve sometimes written about the 1994 epiphany in Colorado that led me to write my first book.
I was somewhat impressed with “Tue es petra” (“Thou Art the Rock”) from the “Byzantine Sketches” by Henri Mulet, and the “Grand Choeur Dialogue” by Eugene Gigout.
The “Elegy” by George Thalben-Ball is very familiar, and the Paganini Variations were mentioned as an encore Sunday.
The CD opens with an organ transcription of the Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner. 
Remember the days of Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs, all the way back in the 1960’s? 

YouTube has a few performances by Cowan, such as above where he plays a transcription of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” on the Quimby Pipe Organ in San Diego.  

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