Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gustav Holst's Psalm 86

Today's Nash Library Vinyl contains three works by Gustav Holst: "A Choral Fantasia," "Psalm 86" and "Dies Natalis." While "A Choral Fantasia" and "Dies Natalis" are lovely, I will focus on "Psalm 86." This absolutely transported me. I hadn't heard it before and the tonal colors of the choir made me stop what I was doing and just...listen... I realized that the harmonies, especially in the middle section, reminded me very much of those in Rachmaninoff's "Bogoroditse Devo," a piece I have performed several times, most recently in the soprano section of the USAO Concert Choir.

Imogen Holst, the daughter of Gustav Holst, wrote the notes on the back of the album and also directed the works on the album along with Gerald Finzi. "Psalm 86" is written for chorus, string orchestra, and organ. It was written in 1912 and is based on a hymn-tune first heard from the Genevan Psalter of 1543. Imogen writes: "There are beautifully expressive passages for the strings: the solo tenor's chanting has the freedom of plainsong, and the unaccompanied sopranos and altos join him at the end of each line of his prayer, gathering his words together and lifting them into the measured serenity of their harmonies." I couldn't have said it better.

Psalm 86 (as set by Joseph Bryan):

To my humble supplication
Lord, give ear and acceptation;
Save Thy servant that hath none
Help nor hope but Thee alone.

Send, O send relieving gladness
To my soul opprest with sadness,
Which from clog of earth set free
Winged with zeal, flies up to Thee.

To Thee, rich in mercies treasure,
And in goodness without measure,
Never failing help to those
Who on Thy sure help repose.

Heav'nly Tutor, of thy kindness,
Teach my dullness, guide my blindness,
That my steps Thy paths may tread
Which to endless bliss do lead.

Friday, November 4, 2016

They can't all be good...

It's been a little while since I posted. I have to be honest that I've gotten stuck on listening to my own copy of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's album "Time Out." I also had a series of disappointments when it came to my Nash Library Vinyl experience.

Disappointment 1: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection," the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter.

A Mahler symphony is to be revered. You need to set aside special time to listen to it. Do not make any other plans. Just play the Mahler symphony and sit in the dark and question your life choices.

It was difficult to carve out a block of time, but when I did my Mahler experience was ruined. One word: piccolo. The piccolo player on this recording is abhorrently out of tune.

Disappointment 2: Moussorgsky's "Pictures at and Exhibition" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Cappriccio Espagnol," the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Two of my most favorite pieces in the whole world! I have fond memories of performing both of these works at George Mason University under the direction of Anthony Maiello. I tend to love Bernstein's tempos; they are always a bit faster than logically possibly. This recording was not bad, but it was not as vibrant as I want my Russian composers to sound.

Disappointment 3: J.S. Bach "Magnificat in D" and "Cantata no. 51."

This recording was lovely! But just prior to the final cadence of the Magnificat there is a skip in the record. You are left in a perceptual realm of unresolved harmony. No amount of cajoling the needle will get this to jump to the final chord. I am still an incomplete human.

About Me

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Since earning her Ph.D. in music theory and history from the University of Connecticut in 2014, Dr. Sekula has been a full-time faculty member with the department of music at USAO where she teaches the music theory curriculum and conducts the concert band. Sekula also serves as the coordinator for the department of music. She has previously earned Bachelor’s degrees in music education and flute performance from Lebanon Valley College and a Master’s of Music in flute performance from George Mason University. Sekula has studied flute with Barbara Divine, Dr. Theresa Bowers, Judith Lapple, and Dr. Barbara Hopkins.