George Walker / Sergiu Comissiona / Howard Hanson / Morgan State College Choir

George Walker: Mass

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This historical release combines a pair of live performances given more than 20 years apart, with no indication in the booklet of how they came into the hands of the Albany label or who thought they should be put together, except for a note stating that the album is offered in memory of Dr. Nathan Carter, director of the Morgan State College Choir in Maryland. That group is heard in George Walker's Mass, whose 1977 premiere performance, along with a pair of short psalm settings, is reproduced here. The Mass is a grand work, not often heard, and it presents plenty of problems for the chorus and soloists; a famous choir among those of the historically African American institutions in the U.S., they deserve credit for surmounting Walker's challenges. Cast in dense extended tonality of the composer's later idiom, the Mass is notable for its dark, imposing treatment of the text. The real find here is the performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, Walker's degree recital March 1, 1956, at the Eastman College of Music, conducted by Howard Hanson at the helm of the Eastman Philharmonia. It is quite an extraordinary reading, urgent and commanding, at a time when the concert might have brought out the police not too much farther south. The opening movement is so exciting that the well-trained Rochester audience can't help but applaud at its end. This is really a collectors' recording; the sound is no great shakes (although the concerto is reasonable for a 1956 live recording). But you owe it to yourself to hear the young George Walker play Brahms; ten years later he might have become primarily a pianist rather than a composer.

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