Dan Locklair – Symphony No. 2, “America” optimistic and hopeful

September 10, 2020 | By Ralph Graves

Dan Locklair is best known as an organist and a composer of works for his instrument. But there’s a strong correlation between writing for organ and writing for orchestra — just ask Anton Bruckner. Many contemporary choral and organ composers write tonal music, free from academic fussiness.

Locklair certainly falls into that group. And while his style may be tonal, it’s an expanded tonality that gives his music a fresh sound.

His Symphony No. 2, “America” is an exuberant celebration in sound. Each movement is based on a holiday, and obliquely quotes music associated with those holidays.

The work succeeds in sounding American without being an Aaron Copland pastiche. Locklair’s original take on the tunes he incorporates keeps the music just on the edge of familiarity. And it keeps the listener engaged.

Hail the Coming Day is also full of good spirits. It was composed to celebrate the centennial of Winston-Salem and contains several programmatic elements. There’s the clanging of industry and an evocation of Moravian brass bands. It’s an occasional piece that’s well-suited to its occasion — and would make a dynamite opener for a symphony concert!

Locklair’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra shows just how closely the two forces can be related. Locklair carefully blends the various organs stops with parallel sounds in the orchestra. It serves to blur the lines between the two. While the organ and orchestra do exchange musical ideas, there are many times when they speak with one voice — a very powerful and moving voice.

Organist Peter Mikula performs with skill and enthusiasm. Locklair knows his instrument and demands a lot from the soloist. Mikula delivers, making this work a delight to listen to.

PHOENIX is a reworking of a three-minute fanfare for brass. Locklair transforms it into a 10-minute work for orchestra. Brass is still a major element, but in this version, the orchestra develops and reshapes the fanfare in interesting ways.

The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra keeps the energy level high throughout the recording. Conducting duties are shared by Kirk Trevor (Symphony No. 2, PHOENIX) and Michael Roác (Organ Concerto and Hail the Coming Day). And yet there’s remarkable consistency across the album. This is an album of optimism and hope. And sometimes, that’s just what you need.

Dan Locklair: Symphony No. 2, “America”
Hail the Coming Day; Concerto for Organ and Orchestra; PHOENIX
Peter Mikula, organ
Slovak National Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Trevor, Michael Roác, conductors
Naxos