Organist-composer Andreas Willscher (b. 1955) makes his Fanfare debut with this disc, though not his debut on CD; his Organ Symphony No. 5, also performed by Carson Cooman and issued by Divine Art, preceded this release but was not received for review. In any case the acquaintance is a most welcome one. Willscher composes well-crafted music of real inventiveness in a thoroughly tonal idiom that makes liberal use of medieval modes and modern dissonances. Occasionally I hear traces of the influence of the mature Hindemith, but Willscher’s voice is definitely his own.
The two organ symphonies featured here both date from 2017, are laid out in five movements, and were given their world premieres by Cooman (interestingly, No. 20 made its debut before No. 19). The “Hallelujahs” Symphony takes for its subject five Biblical canticles of praise: by the Hebrews in Exodus 15, after they cross through the Red Sea and witness the drowning of the pursuing host of Pharaoh; by Hannah in I Samuel 2, when her state of barrenness is lifted with her conception of the prophet Samuel; by King Hezekiah of Judah in Isaiah 38, when the Lord God heals his deadly illness and extends his life for another 15 years; by the prophet Daniel’s three companions in the deuterocanonical “Song of the Three Young Men,” upon their miraculous deliverance by an angel upon being cast by King Nebuchadnezzar into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol; and the command to John by the angel with the golden ruler in Revelation 22 to “Worship God!” Its five movements alternate in a loud-soft-loud-soft-loud sequence. The first movement is assertive, with an angular thematic motif suggesting hieratic ceremonial gestures; the second subdued but cheerful. The third pulsates with the energy of some modem rock music songs (Willscher has also been a keyboardist for jazz and rock ensembles), but without the annoying aspects of those genres. The fourth suggests a mysterious suspension of the natural order, while the finale utilizes a varied strain of the third movement, but one punctuated with sustained dissonances depicting the other¬worldly nature of the angel and the vision of his work.
The “Laetere” Symphony, as the Latin title indicates, concerns various aspects of mankind rejoicing in the goodness of God. The first, third, fourth, and fifth movements are based on ancient Gregorian chants to various Mass Propers: “Vocem jucunditatis” (A voice of joy), from the Fifth Sunday after Easter, “Ubi caritas” (Where there is charity) from Maundy Thursday and the Feast of Corpus Christi, “Laetere” (Rejoice, O Jerusalem) from the Fourth Sunday in Lent, and “Urbs Jerusalem” (The city of Jerusalem) from the feast for the dedication of a church. The second utilizes a medieval French melody, “Lou Boun Dieu” (The Good Lord). The mood here is predominantly quiet and contemplative; only the fourth movement and the opening of the first movement move beyond a pianissimo to mezzo-forte dynamic range into louder and more dramatic perorations, with concomitantly more adventurous harmonies beyond a basic diatonicism and modalism.
Die Seligpreisungen (The Beatitudes) is a four-movement work from 1974, when the compos¬er was only 17; it was his op. 3 before he stopped cataloging his works with opus numbers. Here the Beatitudes are the four recorded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-23) rather than the better-known set of eight from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-12), which declares those to be blessed who are poor, who hunger, who weep, and who are hated for the sake of Jesus’ name. It is clear that the composer’s personal style was in place early on, though there is perhaps more evidence here of influence by Messiaen and other contemporary French organ composers, not to men¬tion Bach. The first and fourth movements are extroverted and celebratory; the two middle ones introverted and meditative.
I have previously reviewed several discs by Carson Cooman as a composer, but this is the first time I have encountered him as a performer. Once again, the new acquaintance is welcome; the playing here is absolutely terrific, with Cooman at every point making the best possible case for his friend and colleague’s music. While Cooman has dedicated himself as a composer and performer to advancing contemporary tonal music, this makes me really curious to hear what he would do with older masters such as Bach and Widor. The 1869 Edmund Schulze organ of St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, Armley, in Leeds, England—the complex history of which is detailed in the intriguing booklet notes—is a splendid instrument, and beautifully recorded. The booklet also contains the organ’s specifications, Cooman’s edited translation of Willscher’s detailed notes on his own pieces, and composer and artist bios and photos. The only minor drawback is the unappealing booklet cover, which features four paintings by Willscher, based on the four Beatitudes, in the currently trendy “crude art” style; let’s just say that Willscher would be well advised to keep his current day job instead. Fanciers of modern organ music seeking to expand their repertoire need not hesitate to acquire this disc; enthusiastically recommended.
There have been many Carson Cooman organ releases lately – both as composer and organist. But Carson also composes for other instruments, including brass. ‘Rising at Dawn’ features his chamber music with brass. divineartrecords.com…
RT @Sheppardskaerve And I get home and DRUM ROLL. The new disc of Trandavil wonderful three sonatas, 2nd Concerto and 'Fibers AND Coils' for quartet. Thanks to Stephen Sutton and the @DivineArtRecord team for the wonderful work-and to the Kreutzers, Longbow, and especially RoderickChadwick! pic.twitter.com/UiaT…