... but the rest is not anything I particularly want to hear again, with the possible exception of 'In Memory -- H.H.L.' for string orchestra.
Dan Locklair is a name I'd been hearing a fair amount in the past few years, primarily associated with choral music. But I'd never heard any of his other music. He was born in 1949 and is professor of composition at Wake Forest University. He's been a professional organist since his teens, and studied composition at Eastman under Joseph Schwantner, and also with Ezra Laderman. Thus it is no surprise that he is a competent composer. The music on this disc is notable for its subtle and expert orchestration. The music is entirely tonal. Use of rhythmic and metric complexity is attractive. Where much of this music falls down is in its too-frequent use of mundane, even boring, materials and its disappointingly bland harmonies. In the harp concerto, for instance, there is ceaseless triadic arpeggiation, enough that one wants to say 'there's more to the harp than that!' The song cycle 'Lairs of Soundings', to texts by Ursula Le Guin, is edgy and made more so by the voice of soprano Janeanne Houston. The five-minute overture 'Phoenix and Again' is for full orchestra. It was written for a celebration at Wake Forest and is suitably celebratory in nature, with recurring brass fanfares and wind filigree.
The find on this disc is Locklair's Symphony No. 1 (2002), subtitled 'Symphony of Seasons.' The orchestration is incredibly rich and varied. Locklair has almost certainly put in deep study of such masters as Respighi and Rimsky Korsakov. The four movements are, in this order: Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer. 'Autumn' is bracing, even triumphant, and I had to think that to some extent this is based on Locklair's being an academic for whom the beginning of the school year is cause for excitement. For me 'Winter' is the most attractive. It is a chaconne that recurs twelve times with varying orchestration and harmonization, building to towering climaxes before tapering off to a serene almost medieval-sounding finish. 'Spring' is the symphony's scherzo and revels in its asymmetric time signatures. Like the classic scherzo, the movement has a gentler trio section that is succeeded by a joyful, whirling conclusion. 'Summer' reflects the balmy even enervating weather of the American South with lush harmonies and serene rhythms. A clever touch is the use of 'Sumer is icumen in' in counterpoint with the chorus of 'In the Good Old Summertime.' I can easily see this work gaining some sort of hold in American symphony programs.
Finally, one cannot but respond to 'In Memory -- H.H.L.' (2005) written in tribute to the composer's late mother. It is an entirely lovely adagio for string orchestra and as the CD's conductor, Kirk Trevor, mentions it has a more than passing resemblance to Barber's 'Adagio for Strings.' I would not go so far as to say, as Trevor does, that it is a 'worthy successor' of Barber's piece, but it certainly has much the same feel. It is given a fine reading here.
The orchestra on this CD is one that has recorded much for Naxos -- the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra -- and its participation here is variable. It does itself proud in the Symphony and 'In Memory'. There are ensemble and intonation problems, possibly reflecting inadequate rehearsal time, in some of the rest of the program.
A cautious recommendation, primarily for the Symphony and 'In Memory.'