Albany Records has been championing the music of the great neglected American composer George Walker since the 1990s. This is another case (not unlike that of the composer James Cohn) of music that is of such high quality it's astonishing that George Walker is not a household name as an American composer, and that is music is not performed more often (to be honest I know not of any concerts from the past or present featuring his music-there must have been some here and there but I would have to look it up). I am starting with Volume 2 in the series merely because I cannot locate Volume 1 at the moment.
Here are the booklet notes, by the composer:
George Walker has published more than 90 works in many mediums. The early success of
his Lyric for Strings, composed in 1946, was followed the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra,
acknowledged as the best work in that format. Five Piano Sonatas represent a major contribution
to piano repertoire as does the powerful Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and shorter works,
Spatials and Spektra. Major works for strings include two String Quartets, two Sonatas for Violin
and Piano, the Poeme for Violin and Orchestra, a Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, the Dialogus for Cello and Orchestra and the Sonatas for Cello and Piano and Viola and Piano. The Mass for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra and the Cantata for Boys Choir and Orchestra are highly praised choral works of large dimensions. The songs of George Walker are among the finest examples of contemporary lieder in the 20th century. The Address for Orchestra, his first orchestral work, remains an imposing achievement. Two overtures, In Praise of Folly and An Eastman Overture supplement the substantial, rigorously shaped Sinfonias for Orchestra. Two particularly unusual works, the Poem for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble and Canvas for Wind Ensemble are unique in their exploration of instrumental possibilities and timbre. Orpheus for Narrator and Chamber Orchestra delves deeply into Greek tragedy in revealing the impact of this myth. Windset for woodwind ensemble and Music for Brass (Sacred and Profane) are particularly attractive additions to this repertoire. Five organ works commissioned by the American Guild of Organists are important additions to the lineage of great literature for this instrument.
The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, completed in 2008, received its first performance on
December 10th, 2009. Dr. James Undercofler, CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the
magnanimous supporter who contracted the performances on the subscription series of the orchestra. The Violin Concerto was composed for my son, Gregory Walker, who is the soloist in this revelatory performance. The first of the three movements of this work begins with a brief orchestral introduction. The entrance of the solo violin, enmeshed in the texture of the orchestra as a sustained octave, emerges with a phrase that is suspended briefly before continuing in a long line marked by dotted rhythms. After passages for the solo violin and the orchestra, a powerful interlude for brass, strings and percussion initiating a four note motive is introduced. It reappears with modification throughout the movement. Following a recurrence of the introductory material, a lyrical theme is stated by the violin and reappears later in the orchestra. The latter part of the first movement is characterized by energetic, rhythmic fragments in the solo part and the orchestra. The second movement begins with several grace notes attached to four sustained notes, C-C sharp-E-B flat played by the solo violin. These intervals restated on different pitch levels are the basic pillars from which spiraling flourishes emanate in the solo part and in the orchestra. There is a brief cadenza for the solo violin that is projected over a sustained dissonance in the violas, celli and contra basses. The four note intervals heard at the beginning in the solo violin part are repeated by the orchestra to conclude the movement. At the beginning of the third movement a three note motive is played first by woodwinds and horns and repeated twice by trumpets and brass with percussion. After two entrances of the solo violin, a fugue subject is introduced—three sixteenths punctuated by a rest before their repetition. They are played “martellato” (hammered) in the solo violin part. (The incorporation of a fugue in the final movement may be the first example of its kind to be employed in a violin concerto.) The fugue subject recurs modified in its entirety or in part six times in various instrumental combinations. A lyrical section of florid lines played by the soloist follows. An orchestral transition seques into a rhythmic projection of four notes in the violin part. The character of the movement changes with the playful reappearance of the fugue subject. Reiteration of the three notes of the motive heard at the beginning of the movement darkens the content of the music again before the dazzling ascent of the solo violin leads to an affirmative conclusion.
Sinfonia No. 2 for Orchestra The Sinfonia No. 2 was composed after I received an award from the Koussevitsky Foundation in 1992. It was premiered in 1993 by the Detroit Symphony conducted by Neeme Jarvi. The first movement begins with a four note motive for full orchestra. An ascending melodic line in the violins continues in the woodwinds. Repeated notes in the brass terminate that section. In the next section an extended melodic line beginning in the celli and contra basses and moving to violins, woodwinds, horns leads to a contrasting four note motive stated by an oboe. This becomes the genesis of a new section that climaxes with a restatement of the four note motive from the opening of the movement. Rhythmic similarities to this material appear with intervallic alterations. A flurry of notes in the strings and woodwinds subsides quickly to a sustained “D” in the violins that is punctuated by pizzicati in the lower strings. An ascending melodic line culminates in a tutti of repeated notes. A brief coda closes the movement quietly. The second movement, marked “Lamentoso e quasi senza misura”, begins as a flute solo before a chord played by four celli and a guitar support the florid figuration in the flute part. With the return of the initial segment of the flute solo, three more celli and a double bass are added to the orchestration. The rhythmic impulse of five notes played initially by the English horn and bass clarinet are the core elements that can be identified in the third movement. The subtle emergence of an eighth note pattern with a steady pulse provides the basis for the imposition of rhythmic fragments above it. Interposed between these sections are brief sustained moments that interrupt the foot tapping insistence of the bass line of eighth notes. The brilliant conclusion of the work incorporates the five notes heard at the beginning of the movement.
(Homage à Saint George) Foils for Orchestra, a work in one movement, was commissioned by the Eastman School of Music with a grant from the Howard Hanson Institute of American Music by Dr. James Undercofler. The title suggests swords used in a fencing match—the opening octave, a pointed gesture. This title, embellished, conjures up associations that can be made to the myth of Saint George and the Dragon as well as to the exploits of the Chevalier de Saint George. After the opening measures, a three note motive, E flat-D-E natural is heard in the trumpets. Six measures later it appears in the strings and again in the trumpets. Much of the music creates tension—suggesting explosive clashes and a violent duel of thrusts and parrying The victor emerges scarred, but triumphant.
Pageant and Proclamation was commissioned with a grant from AT&T by the New Jersey Symphony for the auspicious opening concert of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in 1997. The concert was televised for National Public Radio. But Pageant and Proclamation was excised from the program in the telecast. The concert featured two works by Beethoven, the Lenore Overture No. 3 and the Symphony No. 9. Only these works were heard in the video produced for national transmission. The orchestral program was conducted by Zdenek Macal. The fanfare in the beginning of my work is succeeded by a five note motive that permeates the score in various guises, melodic and accompanimental. The work climaxes with a brief quote from “When the saints go marching in,” followed by excerpts from the highly emotional protest and civil rights song, “ We shall Overcome.” Pageant and Proclamation, composed as a panegyric for the new arts site, affirms the determination of its citizenry to revive the trouble-plagued city of Newark, New Jersey. The special qualities of all of the works on this cd are captured skillfully by the conductor, Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia. -2009 George Walker
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (20:36)
1)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: I. ♩= 56 (9:35)
2)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: II. ♪ = 46 (4:43)
3)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: III. ♩= 63 (6:17)
Sinfonia No. 2 (16:01) (Andrew Krzynanowski, solo flute)
4)Sinfonia No. 2: I. ♩= 59 6:58 George Walker
5)Sinfonia No. 2: II. ♪ = 63 2:57 George Walker
6)Sinfonia No. 2: III. ♪ = 116 6:04 George Walker
7)Foils for Orchestra (Homage à Saint George) (9:50)
8)Pageant and Proclamation (11:20)
Enjoy this great exploration!