Dan Locklair (b. 1949), professor of music and composer-in-residence at Wake Forest University, is probably best known for his organ suite, Rubrics, a movement of which was used at President Ronald Reagan’s funeral. This compact disc features thirteen of his choral works sung by three different choirs with two conductors. Winchester College is a prestigious English independent school founded by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England, in 1382, partly as a feeder for his (then) New College, Oxford, founded in 1379. Portsmouth Grammar School is also a prestigious independent school founded rather more recently in 1732.The choirs of both institutions are conducted by Malcolm Archer (b. 1952), who is the director of chapel music at Winchester College, having previous been successively assistant organist of Norwich Cathedral and organist of Bristol, Wells, and St. Paul’s cathedrals. “Sospiri” is an ensemble predominately from the University of Oxford, conducted by Christopher Watson (b. 1969), director of music at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford. The recording took place in the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, except for Gloria, which was recorded in Romsey Abbey. Both locations have excellent acoustics and exceptionally fine organs, but though we get to hear the 2011 Kenneth Tickell organ in Keble College Chapel, we unfortunately do not hear the historic 1858 Walker organ in the Abbey Church of St. Mary and St. Ethelflaeda in Romsey, since the track recorded there has an accompaniment of brass and percussion without organ.
The ethereal, atonal quality of the first piece, Lord Jesus, think on me, contrasts with the warmer and highly textured character of the first of the threeIsaiah Canticles.The second canticle returns to the ethereal quality of the first track, but differs in there being considerable dynamic changes in the course of the canticle. The third canticle additionally makes several dramatic changes in tempo. The text of the fourth track, Angel Song, is of considerable interest. Pastor, abolitionist, and freethinker Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907) wrote the Christmas hymn, “Now let the angel-song break forth,” for inclusion in the Christmas 1862 issue of The Commonwealth magazine in celebration of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. John and P. J. Williams commissioned Dan Locklair’s setting for the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and its organist John Cummins in 2014. It is another vigorous piece with an organ part of some complexity. En natus est Emmanuel is a beautiful lush unaccompanied anthem, using a Christmas text from Praetorius. It was written for and first performed by Bel Canto and the Greensboro Youth Chorus in North Carolina in 1999.
Gloria, the longest work included here, is the centrepiece of the compact disc, and the work from which it takes its title. It begins softly with a chant-like statement of the text accompanied by tubular bells, and gradually builds up into a massive sound accompanied by brass and percussion as the pace picks up and the procession of singers makes its way from the rear to the front of the building, then gradually slowing and dying away, then speeding up once more as it repeats the beginning of the text in a final climax at the end. It was commissioned by the Choral Art Society of Portland, Maine, who first performed it in 1999. Next follows a communion motet, O sacrum convivium, which is in some ways my favorite piece on the recording. Written in a slightly more traditional style than most of Dan Locklair’s works, it begins and ends quietly, almost imperceptibly, with a climax including soaring sopranos in the middle. This is followed by a unison plus organ setting of Ubi caritasin which effective use is made of contrasting men’s and women’s voices, chanting in such a way as to give a medieval feeling to the piece. LikeAngel Song, Locklair wrote this piece for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem.
We come next to another communion motet, Ave verum corpus, a fittingly somber unaccompanied setting of this rather somber anonymous medieval text, written for Dan Locklair’s former student Andrew Clark in celebration of his first year as director of choral activities at Harvard University. Sarah Rowley does an excellent job performing the very beautiful soprano solo. St. Peter’s Rockis a much livelier piece based on the text “Tu es Petra,” written to celebrate the opening of a new parish house at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and also in memory of Dan Locklair’s uncle, Wriston Hale Locklair, a former chorister at St. Peter’s who was later on the staff of the Juilliard School in New York City. Pater Nosteris a setting of the Lord’s Prayer in English, written for Gerre Hancock and the Men and Boys Choir of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City. It has a rich and warm texture.
Dan Locklair wrote Remembrance for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in memory of his parents. The Beatitudes from the Gospel of Saint Matthew in the King James Version form the text. The trumpet part and the bass solo, sung by George Parris, have a haunting quality. The piece ends massively on the organ. The final work, The Lord Bless You and Keep You, is again warm and rich in its texture. This time Bethany Horak-Hallett is the soprano soloist. Dan Locklair composed the anthem in 2008 and dedicated it to Jack Mitchener, artist-in-residence at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, and his wife Julia.
Dan Locklair is undoubtedly one of America’s leading choral composers, and it is interesting that a compact disc celebrating his music should have been produced in England rather than in the United States. As mentioned above, three separate choirs were involved, and the booklet does not state which ones were singing what. The singing, however, is uniformly excellent, and in particular I have never heard school choirs that sounded this good before. I thoroughly recommend this compact disc.