Jatamansi reviews

THE AMERICAN ORGANIST 

JATAMANSI. Due Solisti: Zofie Vokalkova, flute; Kathleen Scheide, organ; Jennifer Elaine Young, soprano; John Cook, baritone. Organs: III/65 Mander (2000) of Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pa.; III/47 Dobson (2007) of St. David's Episcopal Church, Radnor, Pa. Raven Recordings OAR-922. Ravencd.com; mail@ravencd.com.

Represented by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, Due Solisti has performed extensively in the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Centered in her native Prague, where she is flute soloist for the Virtuosi di Praga and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, Zofie Vokalkova performs some 150 concerts each season as a soloist and chamber musician. Kathleen Scheide teaches harpsichord at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., and serves as organist at the 1740 stone barn at Church of the Loving Shepherd in Bournelyf, West Chester, Pa. She is also a published composer. These two fine musicians bring their estimable skills together to present highly integrated performances of little known but substantial 20th- and 21st-century repertoire from Czechoslovakia, the United States, and Switzerland. 

Jin Ropek (1922-2005) was organist at the Basilica of St. James in Prague (home of the largest organ in the Czech Republic) and professor of organ at the Prague Conservatory. He composed a large body of organ and choral music, as well as sonatas for various instruments, including the Sonata for Flute. The three-movement work is cast in neoclassical style, with an emphasis on the interval of the fourth. The music of Pamela Decker is familiar to many. Her lively, intense, engaging style, with colorful, sometimes highly dissonant harmony and strong rhythm, pervades her Chaconne on "Ave caeli janua." The work, commissioned by Due Solisti, explores the colors and techniques of both instruments in intriguing ways. The performance is preceded by the sensitive singing of the chant, taken from the Moissac manuscript, by soprano Jennifer Elaine Young.

A native of South Dakota now working in North Texas, Lynn Job is an eclectic composer, poet/author, actress, professor, and archeology hobbyist. Her House of Jatamansi, also commissioned by Due Solisti, is a six-part tableau that alternates narration and music, telling the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with precious oil (a Himalayan herb, Nardostachys jatamansi, hence the CD's title) as recorded in the Gospel of John 12:1-8. The evocative music follows the narrative (sonorously spoken by lyric baritone John Cook) describing the progression of events through the evening: Twilight, Moonsong, Reverie.

Michal Macourek is a composer, pianist, teacher, and conductor in Prague who performs with his flutist wife as Da Capo. His compositions have been widely performed in Europe and the United States. Due Solisti commissioned his Duo per flauto e organo. This neo-classical work is tonally centered around the interval of the fifth. In ternary form, it explores and comingles the colors of flute and organ.

Yen Barabas (1901-1939) was a Polish Jew who died in Prague during World War II. The manuscript of his three-movement "Jody" Suite was discovered in Zofie Vokalkova's house. Its haunting melodies showcase the unaccompanied solo flute in its various ranges and expressions.

Lionel Rogg began his career in Geneva, Switzerland with the performance of the complete organ works of Bach at Victoria Hall, where he is resident organist. Formerly professor of organ at the Geneva Conservatory, he is now professor of organ and improvisation at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has composed music for organ, piano, choir, orchestra, and chamber ensemble. The Sonata for Flute and Organ was originally scored for oboe. Also in neo-classical style, centering around fourths, it is reminiscent of Hindemith and Frank Martin.

The entire program is a fascinating exploration of variety in treatment of modern tonality and musical style. Each of the works successfully yokes the two instruments, treating them as equals. Both instruments maintain their unique qualities while binding together into the musical tapestry. Zofie Vokalkova plays with a bright, clear tone and precise technique. The Mander and Dobson organs are ideal partners, with their clear, colorful voices. Kathleen Scheide performs with clarity, precision, and sensitivity. The Duo is a paradigm of musical collaboration in their seamless, unified performances. Balances are generally favorable, well-captured in the recording. These rarely heard works will provide pleasurable listening, and attractive ideas for those seeking new "organ plus" repertoire.

This review by James Hildreth first appeared in The American Organist, October, 2013.

 

THE AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE

Jatamansi
Barabas, Decker, Job, Macourek, Rogg, Ropek
Due Solisti—Raven 922—58 minutes

It is not common to get programs of music for flute and organ, and yet there were two for this issue. One (above) has largely familiar French pieces and consists mostly of arrangements. This release has original music that will be new to anyone. The performances by Czech flutist Zofie Vokalkova and American organist Kathleen Scheide are impeccable, and the sound is luscious. I found value in these selections that I believe flutists and organists would appreciate. The three-movement sonata by Jiri Ropek (1922-2005) opens with a declarative character and the flute nearly engulfed in the organ sound. It is neoclassical and straightforward. Ropek was an organ professor at the Prague Conservatory and played the largest organ in the Czech Republic for decades in his position at the Basilica of St James. The Chaconne on Ave caeli janua by Pamela Decker (b 1955) works up to a furious and grand conclusion in only five minutes. It was written for these players. The chant this piece is based on is included, sung by Jennifer Elaine Young. The three movements of Lynn Job’s House of Jatamansi are introduced with narration. Job’s style is tonal and simple but appealing, and the pieces are not too long or too demanding to be welcome in a church service. The basis for the work is the story in John 12:1-8 of Jesus at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Mary takes an alabaster jar and pours fragrant oil over the feet of Jesus. This oil was believed to have been the Himalayan herb jatamansi (also called nard in the Bible), and it was outrageously expensive, worth more than a year’s wages according to an analogous passage in Mark 14.  The Czech composer Michal Macourek (b 1972) is married to a flutist, but he wrote this piece for Due Solisti. His Duo is a single movement marked Andante maestoso written with gently plodding motion, but it is more mysterious than majestic. After moving into her home, flutist Zofie Vokalkova found some handwritten flute music on paper that looked old. It was a suite for unaccompanied flute by Yen Barabas (1901-39), a Polish Jew who died in Prague during World War II. There are three movements that together last about five minutes. The final movement, Con brio, is a brief study in intervals. Even given such a sympathetic performance, like many unaccompanied flute pieces, the Jody Suite doesn’t mean much. Try the unaccompanied suite by Austrian Jew Hugo Kauder for comparison and you’ll realize the difference. Lionel Rogg (b 1936) needs no introduction as an organist, but he also composes. The piece here is his 2007 sonata for oboe and organ. Like the Ropek, it is neoclassical and suits the instruments well. There are pictures and registrations of the two splendid organs in Pennsylvania this program was recorded on. People who like flute or organ should definitely give this a try.

This review by Todd Gorman first appeared in The American Record Guide, September 2013, pages 225-226.