The main work on this offering—Variations on Veni creator spiritus—was composed as part of Philip Swanson’s doctoral dissertation at the New England Conservatory. It is based on the Ambrosian hymn, Hic est dies versus Dei, a tune that has been set innumerable times by composers ranging from Dunstable to Duruflé. In this 30-minute work, Swanson makes use of the old church modes, freely mixing them with our more conventional major and minor tonalities, and, as a result, produces striking results. The hymn is first intoned by the trombone over murky but gradually brightening harmonies from the organ. Following this slow introduction is a virtually standard Classical symphony—a sonata-style allegro with an A and B theme (Variation I), aRead more meditative slow movement (Variation II), a dance-inspired triple-time third movement (Variation III), and a summing up (and most dissonantly spicy) Allegro molto finale (Variation IV). The harmonizations found throughout this haunting work are arresting and highly original. I would be hard pressed to spell many of the chords, but they work in quite unexpected, but always affectively satisfying, ways.
Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is one of the most transcribed pieces of all time—rivaling and more than likely surpassing La folia, or Paganini’s infamous Caprice. When was it that you last heard it as originally written? Organist Barbara Bruns’s transcription is true to its spirit, and aptly exploits Swanson’s roundly mellow trombone tone.
Hugo Distler (1908–1942) became the church organist at Lübeck in 1931. He taught at the Lübeck conservatory and at the School for Church music in Spandau, ultimately gravitating to the Stuttgart Hochschule für Musik, and from there to Berlin. Distler, alas, ran afoul of the Nazi party. Its subsequent hounding of him led to his death by suicide in 1942.
By the evidence of his partita, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, Distler was a master contrapuntalist. Renowned for his skills as an improviser, he left few notated compositions for his beloved instrument. Two of his instruments of choice were the “small” organ of St. Jakobi, Lübeck, built around 1500 and restored by Karl Kemper in 1935, and the “house organ” built for him in 1938 by Paul Ott of Göttingen. Distler left specific registration suggestions for his partitas, based on the aforementioned Lübeck instrument. The tracker organ used in this recording—the 1967 Rudolf von Beckerath organ at St. Michael’s Church in New York City—closely approximates Distler’s beloved ancient or anciently inspired instruments, and here it is effectively captured in its warm, clarifying, and sonically gratifying space.
Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas’s (b. 1928) Domine, dona nobis pacem brings this offering to a satisfying, Kodály-inspired close.
Organist Barbara Bruns acquits herself admirably. Both Distler’s partita and Swanson’s Variations are intricate and demanding, and she ably rises to their challenges.
Dona nobis pacemby Frigyes Hidas Performer:
Barbara Bruns (Organ),
Philip Swanson (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century Venue: St Michael's Church, NYC
Songs (14), Op. 34: no 14, Vocaliseby Sergei Rachmaninov Performer:
Philip Swanson (Trombone),
Barbara Bruns (Organ)
Period: Romantic Written: 1912-1915; Russia Venue: St Michael's Church, NYC Notes: Composition written: Russia (1912 - 1915).