Buck McDaniel at St. Peter Catholic Cathedral, January 5, 2018.
On a chilly night in Jackson, MS, native Mississippian Buck McDaniel performed a set of old and new works fitting for Advent and Epiphany. This program included a world premiere of McDaniel's own music for Epiphany, a premiere that arrived later than planned due to weather conditions at its original date.
The Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV 733, opened the recital with an Advent staple. This classic organ work of J.S. Bach is a variation on Mary's canticle, the Magnificat. The fugue includes two themes: the plain chant of this canticle and a variation. Each voice of the fugue rang out in clear articulation met by other voices, and the gradual increases in registration and subsequent dynamics highlighted the gravitas of the chant.
McDaniel followed this work with a later German work, Brahms' 11 Chorale Preludes, Op. 122: No. 8. "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen." This piece portrayed a softer perspective on the Advent story and the organ's registration, with strings underneath the obscured melody. Still, McDaniel emphasized the melody by smoothly navigating the underlying chromatics.
The following set, "Kyrie" from Couperin's Messe Solennelle à l'usage des Paroisses, displayed the organ and organist's versatility in a quick transition to French Baroque style. McDaniel's ornamentation immediately signaled a change in style from the previous pieces. The second verset of the Kyrie, a fugue on the solo stops based on the chant melody, introduced a sharp reed that never overpowered the room. McDaniel employed similarly beautiful solo stops for the expressive récit and duet before returning to the full chorus for a grand final restatement of the chant.
One of Duruflé's lesser-known gems, the Prélude sur l'Introit de l'Épiphanie, Op 13, demonstrated a thoughtful performance of Gregorian rhythmic patterns with a series of irregular meters. The piece flowed effortlessly and allowed the listener to savor the beauty of the organ's mellow principles, as McDaniel dwelled upon the rich harmonies and deep pedal tones.
Transitioning to American minimalism, McDaniel easily handled the polyrhythms of Mad Rush, composed by Philip Glass. The seeming simplicity can trick the unfamiliar listener, but to perform complex rhythms with a steady tempo in a room with extended reverberation would require a considerable practice that McDaniel demonstrated. The precise execution of Glass' distinctive arpeggios allowed for the minimalism's effect to fully saturate the room, echoing from wall to wall with the clear impression of a mad rush.
Afterward, McDaniel announced several program notes, explaining that each piece derived from a chant melody but for the previous one. Rather, Philip Glass composed "Mad Rush" (a piece of "indefinite length") in honor of the 14th Dalai Lama's visit to North America.
Following the intermission, McDaniel premiered his Epiphany Service
(2016-2017, a World Premiere), a series of extracted materials from chant merged with his own additions. The Introit opened with cluster chords juxtaposed with moments of the organ's higher register scattered between chant phrases to capture the mystery of the season. Meditative and harmonically interesting, without straying too far from tonality for the average congregant, the Introit established a contemplative mood for the remainder of the work.
The Gradual returned to the organ's strings, and the wandering chant melody entered amidst repetitive ascending cluster chords. The chords later reappeared in the lower octave as the melody traversed to the higher end of the keyboard, reminiscent of the Holy Family's wandering in the wilderness.
The Alleluia contrasted dynamically with four-note patterns that clearly outlined the syllables of the title, but quickly added upon with other patterns that broke into patterns in a similar manner as "Mad Rush". While not as strictly minimalist as Glass, the Alleluia called to mind the image of angels singing ceaseless praises, with no real sense of conclusion. Returning to the style of the Introit, the Offertory sparkled with higher notes, and introduced polyrhythms that suggested a "rocking" motion.
Perhaps the most extended harmonies appeared in Communion, with chords that grew in their insistence. The contrasts across the spectrum of high and low frequencies emphasized the seeming contradiction of the King of Heaven existing in the body of a child on earth, before arpeggios collided in the middle register.
On the whole, McDaniel premiered this thoughtful journey with the expressiveness of a composer who had clearly considered each note. Each piece seemed to build upon the previous, as if to further elaborate the Epiphany story. A young composer, McDaniel displayed great promise in composition, particularly in his post-minimalist additions to organ literature.
Finally, McDaniel performed Nico Muhly's O Antiphons, a setting of chants for the seven days of Advent leading to Christmas. Each possessed a unique character and portrayed the text in an interesting way. "O Sapientia" quietly refreshed the listener's palette following the previous climax of McDaniel's work, while "O Adonai" ushered in grand, clashing harmonies. The image of a root springing forth in "O Radix Jesse" derived from growing pitch levels, while intervals of sixths leaping upward portrayed the Star in "O Clavis David." The mysterious "O Oriens" preceded "O Rex Gentium," which began with intervallic leaps that continued to hurl praises in upward motions, fitting to announce the arrival of a king. "O Emmanuel" concluded the program in grand fashion, with slight, clever-shifts in harmony punctuating open chords that moved down in groups of three, the holy number. An underlying drone established tonal stability through the finale.
This recital offered an overview of old and new organ literature, unified by the celebration of the liturgical season. The addition of McDaniel's compositions provided welcome resources to fill the void of music for Epiphany in particular. We thank St. Peter Catholic Cathedral for sponsoring this concert series, and look forward to more compositions from McDaniel.
Amy Lauren Jones