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Variations on America - Organ Works / Iain Quinn


Release Date: 05/26/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10489   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Aaron CoplandCharles IvesHenry CowellWilliam Grant Still,   ... 
Performer:  Iain Quinn
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



VARIATIONS ON AMERICA Iain Quinn (org) CHANDOS 10489 (71: 16)


COPLAND Preamble for a Solemn Occasion. IVES Variations on “America.” Adeste fidelis, S 131. Fugues: S 136; S 135. COWELL Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 14. STILL Read more class="ARIAL12b">Reverie. BARBER Prelude and Fugue. Wondrous Love. PAULUS Triptych


This is one spectacular organ recording, even given its Chandos pedigree. Pedal tones are vividly and viscerally registered, even in the quietest moments, and the sound is utterly undistorted, top to bottom, at all dynamic levels. “Variations on America” is an apt title for this release. In it, Welsh-born organist Iain Quinn has chosen pieces that reflect America’s religiosity, innocence, and dynamism. The Copland Preamble for a Solemn Occasion was originally an orchestral score composed in 1949 in commemoration of the first anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. I find it painfully ironic that Copland was hauled before the McCarthy committee in 1953 for his alleged communist sympathies, and that for years thereafter, the FBI maintained a file on him. In that same year, Copland transcribed Preamble for organ. As with all masterful transcriptions, this one seems as if originally conceived for the instrument.


That Quinn has dedicated so much of this disc to Charles Ives shows both his understanding and appreciation of the American spirit. Ives was an unrepentant iconoclast, visionary, blazer of new trails, and intensely creative, all the best traits of the American psyche. The notes to this release have imparted something I hadn’t previously known—that his Variations on “America” was a work in progress from its inception in 1891—as a written-down set of organ improvisations he had performed in the course of an organ recital in Brewster, N.Y.—until the year 1949, when he added its strikingly bitonal passages. It, like his setting of Adeste fidelis and the two following fugues, is Ivesian to the core in his reverence for its original tune and in his striving to make that all too familiar music into a newly transcendent experience.


Ives’s protégé Henry Cowell is a highly underrated composer. This performance of his typically well-crafted Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 14 inspired me to go back into my vast vinyl collection in search of the half dozen or so pieces of his that I have. Outstanding among them is a recording of his 1962 Symphony No. 16, “Icelandic,” by the Iceland Symphony conducted by William Strickland (CRI 179). Cowell, like Ives, was an experimenter. Unlike Ives, Cowell often immersed himself in the musics of other cultures and sought to incorporate them into contexts that would be intelligible to our Western ears. That “Icelandic” Symphony is based on Icelandic hymnody and minstrelsy. Cowell was also fascinated by the musics of the Far East, putting him in line with, and in some cases a forerunner to, such luminaries as Alan Hovhannes, Harry Partch, Colin McPhee, and Lou Harrison. In this Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 14 , however, one finds oneself immersed in pure and quite conventional Americana.


African-American composer William Grant Still, a student of both George Chadwick and Edgard Varèse, has written more than his fair share of colorful and highly accessible music. Reverie , a dark-toned and haunting miniature, however, shows another side to his persona. The piece quietly and tentatively searches for resolution, but finds none. I wonder what he would have written were he alive today.


Samuel Barber’s two pieces show him in a ruminative mode. Composed in 1927, the Prelude and Fugue in B Minor is a comparatively early piece, composed in 1927, and full of quietly stated yearning. Unlike Bach’s numerous preludes and fugues, Barber’s Fugue never escapes the slow-paced darkness of its Prelude. Wondrous Love , op. 34, composed in 1958, is a set of variations on a shape-note hymn. It, like the Prelude and Fugue, is muted and troubling. To put it in a larger context, and at the peril of nailing shingles to the fog, it projects a sense of overarching yearning and doubt—another facet of the American experience.


In their wisdom, the producers of this disc have chosen to put the most spectacular piece last—Paulus’s Triptych , composed in 2000. Stephen Paulus (b. 1949), was a student of Dominick Argento, a composer with more than his fair share of stunning choral pieces. This is an all-stops-pulled tour de force for both the organ and the organist, and it, also based on hymnody, conveys to me a celebration of America’s might as an industrial and military giant, yet, along the way, positing some deeply existential questions.


The organ is that of the 14th-century cathedral of St. Michael in Coventry. It was first built in 1886, and, after the cathedral’s destruction in World War II, painstakingly rebuilt by Harrison and Harrison in 1962. That ill-fated but redeemed cathedral provides a fine acoustical surround that enhances and, like Quinn’s musicianship, enlivens all the pieces on this release. Full organ specs are provided.


FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

1. Preamble for a Solemn Occasion by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
2. Variations for Organ on "America" by Charles Ives
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1891; USA 
3. Prelude for Organ on "Adeste fidelis" by Charles Ives
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1897; USA 
4. Hymn and Fuguing Tune no 14 for Organ by Henry Cowell
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962 
5. Reverie for Organ by William Grant Still
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 
6. Wonderous Love, Op. 34 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; USA 
7. Triptych for Organ by Stephen Paulus
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
8. Prelude for Organ on "Adeste fidelis" by Charles Ives
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1897; USA 
9. Fugue for Organ, S 136 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1989; USA 
10. Fugue for Organ, S 135 by Charles Ives
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1989; USA 
11. Hymn and Fuguing Tune no 14 for Organ by Henry Cowell
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962 
12. Prelude and Fugue for Organ by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; USA 
13. Triptych for Organ by Stephen Paulus
Performer:  Iain Quinn (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 

Sound Samples

Preamble for a Solemn Occasion (version for organ)
Variations on America
Adeste Fideles in an Organ Prelude
Fugue in E flat major
Fugue in C minor
Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 14
Reverie
Prelude and Fugue in B minor: Prelude: Andante, quasi adagio -
Prelude and Fugue in B minor: Fugue: Andante con moto - Adagio
Wondrous Love, Op. 34
Triptych: I. Like an Ever-rolling Stream
Triptych: II. Still Be My Vision
Triptych: III. As if the Whole Creation Cried

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