Two awesome pieces that blow my mind

Meditation by Walter Hilse is fantastic.  Todd Wilson renders it perfectly on the Aeolian Skinner in Atlanta.  He starts kind of slowly, a bit straightforward, light on the string stops, closed swell boxes.  Then he opens up a little more, slowly, slowly, with some ascending tonal harmony with a few good passing tones and suspensions, then he goes modal and sounds more dreamy on these great reeds.  The pedal point sets in and it reminds me of parts of Holst’s “Planets” in terms of how the tension is built, but then it gently fades away with a beautiful descending line in the principal pipes held over the strings.

But wait, it gets better!  Leo Sowerby’s “Sonatina for Organ – Very Slowly” is fast becoming my favorite piece right now.  And that’s saying something, because French, he is not.  It starts out so dissonantly, almost like Mussorgsky.  A great Klarine giving a modal line, then in fades the half-opened swell box on some salicional or gentle reeds, then comes this Langalais-like blockflute.  The melody is so haunting and beautiful, almost aqua green.  There’s a small repeated line in the strings, and he takes it into three new keys, very blusey, very jazzy, and enters the principle.  Oh Lord, at about 3 minutes into the piece, the beautiful line makes me melt.  There’s this  F – G flat – A flat -B flat -E flat – A – A flat- F line;encapsulating a ridiculously, deliciously emphasized tritone, all floating in a principle flute over the swelled string stop.  It just doesn’t get any better, or does it?

Chromaticism and accidentals all over the place, he lets the air out of the piece, almost like the sun going down, yet still playing with a few tritones, returning to the early modal dissonance of the piece, while the swell reminds you of the earlier three note themes.  Sowerby keeps the attention by messing with you, is he going to return back to where he came?  How will he end it?  Floating flute line, then a clarinet, almost like a swan singing in the distance, and a few sweet chords in the swell end it gently.

Call me crazy, but this piece is so awesome.

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One Response to “Two awesome pieces that blow my mind”

  1. Francis Crociata says:

    Very much enjoyed reading your reflections on the middle movement of Sowerby’s Sonatina. You might enjoy another of Leo’s French-tinged organ works from about the same time (early 1940s)–Arioso–which is more in a Ravel direction than Very Slowly’s references to the contemporary French organist/composers. There is a wonderful recording of Arioso on Lorenz Mayher’s all-Sowerby Raven cd–which also includes a very persuasive reading of the Sonatina. (Maycher is, in my opinion, the finest Sowerby interpreter of the current generation.) From a previous generation, the late U of Michigan professor Robert Glasgow was a supreme interpreter Arioso and left two recordings of it–both of which are still available–and both coupled with another rarely heard Sowerby work–Pageant of Autumn (frequently confused with two other works–“Pageant”–the pedal tour de force, and “Comes Autumn Time”–probably the most popular Sowerby organ work–known also in an orchestral version.) Lastly, and back to Very Slowly–there is a wonderful recording by Maycher’s teacher, the late William Watkins, in the Vermont Organ Academy’s Aeolian-Skinner series.

    Again, thanks for sharing these impressions.
    Francis Crociata

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