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Amazing Grace - Organ Music Of Adolphus Hailstork

Release Date: 12/26/2006 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 873   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Robert CrossEastern Brass QuintetJames KosnikFrank Ward,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAILSTORK Fanfare on Amazing Grace.1,2 Spirituals Suite.3 Armageddon.2,4 Meditation on “Amazing Grace.” Prelude and Toccata on “Veni Emmanuel” James Kosnik (org); 1Eastern Virginia Brass Qnt; 2Rob Cross (perc); 3Frank Ward (bs-bar); Read more class="SUPER12">4David Walker (perc) ALBANY 873 (72:47)

This album, entitled Amazing Grace: Organ Music of Adolphus Hailstork, was issued in 2006 but not reviewed in Fanfare at that time. It is, like the music on JoAnn Falletta’s CD reviewed elsewhere in this issue an excellent introduction to his music, and in fact there is one piece common to both, Fanfare on Amazing Grace. Generally speaking, the playing of Falletta’s Virginia Symphony Orchestra is cleaner and smoother than the Virginia Brass Quintet here, but this performance has more spunk.

The composer’s own liner notes don’t mention whether the Spirituals Suite was conceived to be performed in alternation between singer and organ, or if it was just recorded that way to illustrate to listeners how he wrote variants on these pieces. I’m assuming the latter because the sung versions of each spiritual are unaccompanied and rather short, and also because Hailstork mentions that although “the movements were intended primarily for service use, I concluded that the five could make a concert suite.” The five spirituals used are Everytime I Feel the Spirit, There is a Balm in Gilead, Wade in the Water, Go Down, Moses, and Oh Freedom. As is the case in all of Hailstork’s music, these are primarily tonal but very original treatments, using modern harmonic devices within each variation to create a real composition and not just a paraphrase of each spiritual. As Hailstork aptly puts it, “There is a Balm is gentle and meditative while Go Down, Moses is ‘eerie and mysterious.’” One of the things I like most about his music is that there is tremendous feeling in it; it is not cold, not an academic exercise. It is music with blood in it.

Jazz lovers may recognize Wade in the Water from the superb jazz treatment that the Ramsey Lewis Trio gave to this piece in the 1960s. Hailstork’s variation on this is possibly the most atonal, or at least bitonal, of all of them, starting with a rather startling introduction and working its way through some very dark colors on the organ. Oh, Freedom also has a somewhat bitonal bent and a slightly jazzy bass line, well, at least a syncopated one that I can imagine could be played a bit jazzier than Kosnik does here. In all the vocal presentations, Frank Ward displays a rich, warm baritone voice with excellent breath control and phrasing, particularly in soft passages, but sadly, a bit of huskiness and a slow vibrato in loud ones.

Armageddon is a strange, dark piece, rather an anomaly for this generally cheerful composer, but with good reason—it was written in response to the 9/11 tragedy. And it has that kind of sound: as if the very fabric of one’s life was disrupted, with loud, dark, bitonal chords (described by Hailstork as two minor triads a half tone apart) crunched on the organ, later hearing a police whistle and what could be taken as the clang of a hammer—possibly in one’s head?—as the tragedy unfolds. There is also a quiet section with soft organ chords (or clusters) held against xylophone and vibes, but as a matter of fact most of the later sections of this work are of a quiet nature (but oddly disturbing). There is, however, a very dark and wild section (no. 5), which recalls earlier sections, yet sounds wholly original. Armageddon ends with a coda that includes gentle marimba tremolos against a simple melody on the organ, with gradually disappearing bell tones in the percussion.

The “meditation” on Amazing Grace is a fine piece; one might almost call it a choral prelude in the old-fashioned sense of the term, slow, quiet, and meditative. The prelude on Veni Emmanuel—our old friend, the Advent hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel”—is in much the same vein, and despite some interesting variations went on a bit too long for me, but the toccata is simply splendid, sounding to my ears (and I may be wrong) as starting in 5/4 time or at least accented that way within each bar.

Kosnik is evidently a well-trained organist who plays these works with enthusiasm. This is a fascinating CD of interesting, contemporary, and wholly American organ music.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Fanfare on "Amazing Grace" by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Robert Cross (Timpani), Eastern Brass Quintet (), James Kosnik (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Spirituals Suite by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  James Kosnik (Organ), Frank Ward (Bass Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Sonata for Organ and Percussion "Armageddon" by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Robert Cross (Percussion), David Walker (Percussion), James Kosnik (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Meditation on "Amazing Grace" by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  James Kosnik (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Prelude and Toccata for Organ on "Veni Emmanuel" by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  James Kosnik (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

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