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American Weavings: Viola and organ proves to be an awesome combination

Gramophone, July 2011

Lawrence Vittes

Although most of us rarely have the opportunity to hear the organ in a musical relationship with a solo instrument of the string family, it makes an immensely suitable companion. The organ's innate ability to modulate volume allows the strings to relax, and not worry about having a place in the melodic content or getting lost in any harmonic mazes with which the composer may embroider the musical fabric. Based on this new CD, it is an awesome combination when the instrument is the viola and the music, as it is in each piece on this recital, is noble in intent. The subtlety with which the two instruments interact and blend will open up your hearing. Christopher Gable's 16-minute long Teshuvah is the most emotionally powerful music on the programme. Gable, who studied with Dominick Argento, Judith Lang Zaimont and Emma Lou Diemer, evokes a voyage of personal atonement through the voice of the viola, against which the organ provides sumptuous, compassionate upholstery. Augusta Read Thomas's two solo viola pieces operate on a mesmerising plane anchored in a Bachian sense of line and structure, and bombarded with echoes and reflections. The rest of the music is less memorable. Respectively based at the Eastman School of Music and St. Olaf College (in Northfield, Minnesota), the Rodland sisters play with charisma and style, and Carol makes Teshuvah sound as if it could have legs as a concerto. The sound of the Holtkamp organ in the St. Olaf chapel is captured with space, size, and ease. The booklet-notes, as always with Crystal, mix the composers' notes with the performers' comments.