Gregory Hand

William Bolcom: Complete Gospel Preludes

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William Bolcom has been noted for his eclecticism so often that he may well be remembered as the exemplar of polystylistic American classical music, and proof of his extreme variability can be found in this 2012 Naxos release. The Complete Gospel Preludes is a collection in four books of organ pieces based on familiar Protestant hymns, though that merely describes the organization and source material for Bolcom's music. No one should expect standard, four-part harmonizations or conventional variations on hymn tunes: even though the melodies are more or less recognizable, depending on how fragmented they are, they are frequently interrupted with bluesy filigree, free dissonant counterpoint, or violent atonal gestures that keep everyone guessing, not only about the artistic direction of the pieces but also the significance of Bolcom's references. Whether alluding to Debussy's La cath├ędrale engloutie, adapting the canonic techniques of Bach, nodding to Fats Waller, or tapping the wealth of traditional church music, Bolcom's encyclopedic knowledge of styles pushes the music into many inscrutable directions. In his liner notes, organist Gregory Hand describes much of the preludes' musical content and speculates about possible subjective meanings, but the enigmatic nature of the music leaves much unresolved and open to interpretation. Even so, Hand delivers engaging performances that show his skills and showmanship, though the indifferent reproduction doesn't do justice to the brilliance of his technique or the colorful stops of the Skinner organ he plays.

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