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American Weavings

International Record Review, June 2011

Raymond S. Tuttle

I like the organ even better when it invites friends over to play. Indeed, for an instrument that spends so much time in church, it is surprisingly social and tolerant of a wide aray of playmates - not just the brassier ones! My experience encompasses attractive discs in which it is joined by a violin or by a cello, this is the first time, however, that I have heard a disc in which it is joined by a viola. As most of these 'organ plus' recitals consist entirely of arrangements anyway, it is a little surprising that the present pairing is as uncommon as it is. Here, we are offered four original works for viola and organ - in other words, not arrangements - and, for contrast, two each for solo organ and solo viola. All are new to CD. The two Rodlands are a 'sister act' who have thriving solo careers. Violist Carol, who studied at Juilliard and at the Musikhochschule Freiburg, now teaches at the Eastmand School of Music in Rochester, New York. Catherine studied at Eastman and also at St. Olof College in Minnesota. Currently, she is artist-in-residence at the latter institution. This is their first joint recording. Not surprisingly, three of the four works for viola and organ were commissioned by the Rodlands. The exception is Daniel Pinkham's Sonta da Chiesa, which was premiered in 1988. Pinkham, who died five years ago, was an esteemed American composer of music in many genres, but much of it is sacred and much of it involves the organ. (He was an accomplished performer on that instrument.) Carol Rodland was "deeply touched" to find that Pinkham had placed the score in her faculty mailbox, when she taught at the New England Conservatory. It is a thoughtful and mostly introspective work, although there is drama at the start of the third movement, and the "Giocoso" finale ends this Hindemith-like sonata energetically. His "A Proclamation for Organ", a solo for Catherine, lasts only four minutes but contains profound contrasts in texture and temperament. Works by John Weaver (b.1937) open and close this CD. The six-minute Concert Piece is based largely on a wilting four-note motif which proves to be expectant, and also replete with expressive potential. The Three Chorale Preludes are based on traditional tunes found in American hymnals. Weaver's settings, while imaginative, respect their quiet simplicity. Vaughan Williams comes to mind and, of course, that is no bad thing! Teshuvah is a Hebrew word whose meanings include 'returning'; Christopher Gable (b. 1968) composed his eponymous fantasy after many years away from the church. The work does seem to outline a sort of spiritual search in which both the viola and the organ are protagonists journeying together. Gable's sincerity is evident and it is fluently comminicated. Over 16 minues long, Teshuvah is highly effective and does not outstay its welcome. The remaining works are solos. The melodic and intense incantation was composed in 1995 for a violinist fatally stricken with cancer. Pulsar, more driven but no less molodic, is a later work, composed for Ilya Gringolts. Augusta Read Thomas subsequently arranged both of them for Carol Rodland. In her booklet note, the composer remarks that she likes her music to have the quality of a 'captured improivisation' and that comes across in these fluid readings. Craig Phillips's Toccata on 'Hyfrydol' (a word meaning 'cheerful'_ is also based on a hymnal tune, one dating from 1844, originally composed by Rowland Prichard True to its name, it is ebullient, and an apt lead-in to eaver's Three Choral Preludes, which close the disc. The churchy acoustrics wash some of the rich, intimate warmth from the viola's tone, but I have no reservations about Carol Rodland's playing. She makes her instrument sing. She projects a likeable confidence and is a strong communicator. Apparently these qualities run in the family: over in the organ loft, Catherine's imagination and professionalism match Carol's. Sisters do not always see eye-to-eye, but here, unity of execution and unity of interpretation are the order of the day. The booklet notes involve both performers and several composers - a wordly informative family affair!