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Walter Saul: Sonatas & Meditations For Piano

Saul,Walter
Release Date: 12/10/2013 
Label:  Enharmonic Records   Catalog #: 28   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAUL Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5. Meditations: On the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Palingenesia. For God alone my soul waits in silence Walter Saul (pn) ENHARMONIC 13–028 (79:06)



This disc of four piano sonatas and three meditations by Walter Saul is most welcome. In his introductory notes, Saul refers to the music on this disc as representing his “pilgrimage as a follower of Jesus Christ.” His religion Read more informs much, if not all, of the music here.


The Fifth Piano Sonata, of 2007, the most recent work and the piece with which the disc begins, is forceful and granitic. Inspired by a passage in Philippians that speaks of the power of Saul’s God, the force of this opening is designed to reflect this omnipotence; the contrasting theme represents the fellowship of Christ. The second movement “reflects Paul’s loss of all things for the sake of Jesus Christ,” and is indeed a pool of desolation with an eloquently speaking cantabile top line, sweetly rendered here by the composer. The jazzy rhythms of the Finale come as a surprise (the ebullience is designed to show Paul’s confidence in his God). Saul clearly enjoys himself here, perhaps particularly in the imitative passage around two minutes in.


The Second Sonata (1981) begins with a pianistic shriek: This is the composer at a time of crisis asking his God, “Why?” The second movement is the deity’s answer. So the Sonata is a kind of cosmic call and response. The dissonance of the first movement leaves no doubt as to the ongoing angst; the sweet reassurance of the opening of the second movement similarly leaves us in no doubt as to the sure and comforting nature of the reply. There is much beauty in the deity’s retort, and Saul plays with huge devotion. The occasional dissonance represents the disconcerting aspect of the reply. The award-winning First Sonata (1970) was composed in the composer’s mid-teens, and is a tautly constructed, effective work, particularly the lyrical slow movement. According to the composer, “the dissonance reveals the unsatisfied searching” of his teenage years. The concluding Rondo is no light conclusion; rather it seems to prolong the angst.


The Fourth Sonata (1993) is a fine way to close the disc. The jaunty, jazzy first movement (marked medium swing ) is terrific fun; the elegy second movement altogether more interior. Saul himself describes the Finale as “irreverent,” and its unbuttoned tomfoolery is an excellent way to close the disc.


The Meditations act as contrastive material. The 1987 On the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ (inspired by the account in Luke) is, in effect, a tone poem for piano. It unfolds over 10 minutes with a Messiaen-like sense of slow, nearly timeless, inevitability. The arrival of “a single pinprick of light high up in the heavens” is most beautifully portrayed. There is something Debussy-like about the chordal passage high over a mobile bass way down below (it seems somehow reminiscent of “La cathédrale engloutie”, although the registral play is different); in Saul’s hands it transfigures itself into something light and inspirational. The concept of palingenesia (which I take it Saul is using in the spiritual sense, that of metempsychosis), in the 2009 work of that name, meditates on “the restoration of everything to its pre-Fall created state.” Saul likens the process to that of labor, of giving birth, so there is agony as well as ecstasy. The harmonic language of the work is powerful and carefully considered. Moments of calm and peace are most beautifully rendered. Finally, For God alone my soul waits in silence (1999), which describes the salvation of a homeless person. A theme that represents the light of the Christian God apparently came to the composer in a dream.


It speaks much that, as a Pagan, I share few (read none) of Saul’s beliefs, yet I find his music very moving, as well as highly enjoyable. (It also speaks much of the bravery of the editor, Joel Flegler, for sending this disc to me for review). The recording is perfectly acceptable; the playing impeccable. Saul is no mean pianist: He has presented both books of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in recital from memory before now. He is currently professor of music at Fresno Pacific University.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

1.
Piano Sonata No. 5 by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2007 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 13 Minutes 3 Secs. 
2.
On the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, for piano by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1987 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 10 Minutes 47 Secs. 
3.
Piano Sonata No. 2 by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1981 
Date of Recording: 09/11/2011 
Venue:  Live  McDonald Hall Atrium, Fresno Pacific Uni 
Length: 16 Minutes 15 Secs. 
4.
Palingenesia, for piano by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2009 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 4 Minutes 54 Secs. 
5.
Piano Sonata No. 1 by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1970 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 13 Minutes 1 Secs. 
6.
For God Alone My Soul Waits in Silence, for piano by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1999 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 8 Minutes 9 Secs. 
7.
Piano Sonata No. 4 by Walter Saul
Performer:  Walter Saul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1993 
Venue:  Ashley Auditorium, Fresno Pacific Univer 
Length: 11 Minutes 31 Secs. 

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