Croatian-born American composer Zvonimir Nagy approaches writing music as an interdisciplinary endeavor, informed especially by his scholarship into music cognition and his experience as a keyboard performer. In the case of this album, Nagy’s performing activities are particularly relevant as these are all compositions for his own instrument, the pipe organ, and are performed by the composer himself. However, this is not a typical album of organ music or even of contemporary organ music. So much of the contemporary literature has taken its cues from the dominance of the French romantic school of organ literature, and the bold and lush colors of French organ building in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have likewise exerted a large influence in the remainder of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. Nagy’s organ pieces chosen for this album represent a rather different tradition and reflect the direction that his music has taken in the last decade. They come instead out of post-minimalism and ambient music as well as a particular kind of sacred mysticism that can be found in the work of a number of Eastern European composers.
The organ works here are nearly all meditative in character. However, they are not free, mystical improvisation, but rather rigorously crafted music that balances compositional systems and processes (both post-minimalist and traditional) with an intuitive sense that seeks sublime expression. The titles and extra-musical themes of these pieces also point towards a sense of thoughtful investigation and personal contemplation: Litanies of the Soul, Inner Self, Preludes for a Prayer, etc. There is always a sense that this music is an exploration of the most fundamental things that comprise the nature of simply “being.”
The album begins with the title track, Angelus (2017), a quiet and atmospheric piece with overt minimalist influences. The Angelus is one of the significant Catholic devotions, and traditionally this call to prayer would be evoked by the ringing of a bell. In the music, one can hear the gently tolling, repeating patterns change gradually throughout.
Litanies of the Soul (2011/17) is a suite in palindromic form: the outer two movements are built from repeated notes, sounding intensely with the sonorities of the full organ. Both begin in octaves and gradually increase in harmonic density; they are also directional inversions of each other: the first movement moving upwards and the fifth movement downwards. In between these movements is found quieter music. The second and fourth are canonic trios with the themes being retrogrades of each other. The inner third movement is the “still point.” Musical lines slowly rise and fall across each other, while becoming part of harmonies when they “pass through” the accompanying voice.
Prayer (2007, rev. 2011) is a short work inspired by Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It is a musical exploration of some of the same musical material that is revisited at greater length in the outer movements of the suite that closes the disc: Preludes for a Prayer.
Two Canons —“Inner Self” (2007, rev. 2010) and “Carmen Perpetuum” (Perpetual Song) (2007, rev. 2017)—explore basic canonic principles in service of building something that is rather more complex than straightforward imitation. “Inner Self” is a trio in three different registers. In “Carmen Perpetuum,” the voices sustain and are blurred into thick harmonies in the manuals; the theme in the pedals moves below it at a slower pace.
Preludes for a Prayer (2012, rev. 2014/17) is the largest of the organ works on the album and unfolds across seven movements. The seventh movement is a more extended version of the first movement, and the inner five movements travel through largely contemplative landscapes, with contrasts of pattern in texture. Spirited music bursts forth briefly in the sixth movement and then dissolves again in the exquisitely tranquil finale, which moves slowly towards its satisfying final cadence and a sense of closure.
– Carson Cooman
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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.
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