Tuesday, December 03, 2013

CD by Houlihan showcases Vierne; the music of Amy Beach

I did purchase a CD of organist Christopher Houlihan, after the concert on Nov, 24 in Washington DC.   Here Houlihan is performing at the Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, CT, on another Austin Organ, Op. 2536 (from 1971).  The CD is Towerhill recording TH-72018.
The main course on the CD is the Organ Symphony #2 in E Minor, Op. 20 (1903), by Louis Vierne, who was legally blind.  The music, despite what the program notes say, doesn’t sound so far from Franck.  There are five movements.  The first movement and finale end in a triumphant Picardy Third in E. There are two slow movements.  The “Choral” has a surprise loud ending, but the Cantabile is quiet, as is the preceding scherzo, which the organist had used as an encore.
The CD adds the “Carillon de Westminster” as performed in the Nov. 24 concert.
The CD includes the Widor Sixth Symphony Allegro, and adds the Andante Sostenuto from the “Gothic Symphony” (sorry, no relation to Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony).  I’m not a fan of performing separate movements.  But Widor endorsed the practice, linking the Allegro and Finale of his Sixth along with the Andante of the Second to form a “Symphony for Organ and Orchestra.”  I seem to remember hearing some Widor at a church in Charlotte as a boy on a family trip in the 1950s.
At the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Sunday (Dec. 1), there was a communion anthem “Sleepers, Wake, A Voice Is Calling” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Saint Paul”, with Austin organ.
I’ll mention that we had a “handbell” music lesson at the monthly potluck, to accompany some carol singing.  Some of the bells had notations of the pitch and diagrams.  The other church that I often attend in Arlington (Trinity Presbyterian) often performs musical numbers with bells. 

I’ll mention a couple more adventures on YouTube.  I found the Symphony in E Minor and Piano Concerto in C# Minor by Amy Beach (probably Aemrica’s most important female composer before modern times) on YouTube, along with the Piano Quintet in F# Minor.  All are examples of late "German" Romanticism, with a taste of Brahms.  The E Minor Symphony has a restless first movement that ends abruptly, but the big tune in the Finale is based on an Irish folk song. It’s on Chandos. It will sound familiar. The Piano Concerto has four movements, heavily rhythmic, and a spectacular, pre-Rachmaninoff conclusion to an otherwise playful finale.  I also found Eugen D’Albert’s Piano Concerto #1 (the “Everwood”) on YouTube, but I’m not sure how legally.  I commented on the work anyway there.  I’ve discussed the work  (inspired by the Liszt B Minor sonata) in detail here before.  

Update: April 16, 2016

Here is a YouTube video that shows the Amy Beach Piano Concerto score as it is played.  The first movement, 18 minutes, is noteworthy for its very expansive sonata structure. The finale "scioltezza" means with agility.  The music is noteworthy in sounding laid back but erupting into powerful, even violent, climaxes.  The work has more orchestral passages than usual for a piano concerto, almost as if a "concerto for orchestra with piano".  The piano writing has some similarity to Brahms and Liszt, but looks ahead to Rachmaninoff.  Beach has a way to take mundane, almost pedantic or perfunctory themes (which sounds like an odd thing to say because she often uses her own songs or other folk songs in her large works), and make them interesting.  In her music, the "development" is everything  Although this concerto is hardly every played, it is easy for the "ear" to learn and sounds familiar after two or three playings;  like D'Albert's big works, it has its own internal logic that seems quite compelling. .
A male pianist should play this work with the New York Philharmonic the weekend before the general election, if we wind up with Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump.  Performing the work could make a political statement.
But every Easter, this work gets attention, as below:

Update:  April 16, 2017

That video with the sheet music isn't available now, so try this performance by Joanne Polk and the English Chamber Orchestra, link.  Movement timings are 19:16, 25:24, 30:14.  

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