Cowell, Ward & Sowerby: Orchestral Works
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCRL165     Release Date: 2010-05-01
Norwegian Choir Of Solosingers; Rolf Karlsen; organ; Members of The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra; William Strickland, conductor

Edward Taylor (1645-1729), the Massachusetts Puritan clergy-man and poet, for whose lines Henry Cowell (1897-1965) wrote the vivid musical setting recorded here, was known through his poetry to only a few scholar-specialists until 1939 when his Poetical Works became published for the first time. Today, Taylor stands recognized as “the most richly endowed of the colonial poets” — a not unworthy counterpart, in his colorful imagery and impassioned God-seeking, to the mighty metaphysical poet-predecessor of his mother country, John Donne.

The idea of setting the Taylor text was suggested by William Strickland when the New York Oratorio Society, of which he was then Director, commissioned a Henry Cowell work in 1954.The poem itself is a reminder that what the Almighty has done He can undo into Nothing again — a hint of that total annihilation which became a literal possibility in the twentieth century.

Many have commented on the expertise of the choral writing in Robert Ward's The Crucible, and it should be no surprise to find that the roots of this expertise reach far back to his student days at the Eastman School of Music when he composed the setting recorded here of Walt Whitman’s Hush’d Be the Camps Today. In keeping with the poignance and simplicity of Whitman’s tribute to Abraham Lincoln on the day of his interment, Ward’s choral-orchestral treatment of the words has steered clear of unnecessary frills, polyphonic or coloristic. The mood is solemn, the melodic line that of a great lament, which is kept in motion through slow and solemn cadence by means of a steady flow and interweaving of inner voices, vocal and orchestral. The orchestral scoring and the harmonic spacing of the vocal lines is such as to lend the music the sense of richness and warmth of utterance called for by Walt Whitman’s lines.

In the three movements of the Classic Concerto, we have in the outer movements all of Leo Sowerby’s contrapuntal skill and solidity of structure without the near oppressive mass of some of his more ambitious scores. Even so, there is ample density to the music’s harmonic texture, due in great part to Sowerby’s canny use of the organ as a singularly effective vehicle of dissonance. The movement designations for all three say all that need be said about the music unless one desires a close technical analysis; though one must remark on the spirited interplay between organ and strings that characterizes the musical texture as a whole, and above all the bitter- sweet poetry (almost Delius-like) with which Sowerby has infused the slow movement of this work.

 

This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available as a burn-on-demand CD (CD-R) or download in MP3/320, FLAC or WAV formats. CD-Rs come in a protective sleeve; no print booklet or jewel case included. Full liner notes are accessible via the link above.

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

Cowell, Ward & Sowerby: Orchestral Works

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Track Listing

...If He Please
Henry Cowell
Buy
Hush'd Be the Camps Today
Robert Ward
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Classic Concerto For Organ And String Orchestra: I. Merrily, With Snap
Leo Sowerby
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Classic Concerto For Organ And String Orchestra: II. Dreamily and Rhapsodically; With Poignant Expression
Leo Sowerby
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Classic Concerto For Organ And String Orchestra: Iii. In Broad Style
Leo Sowerby
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