**** Four-Star Review by Rupert Gough in Choir & Organ:
Pilgrimages presents six major works by the Canadian organist/composer Rachel Laurin. The music is well crafted in a kind of New World fusion of musical styles from France, Germany and England. Many of the works are character pieces, especially the Étude-Caprice ‘Beelzebub’s Laugh’ or the Quatre pélerinages en Lorraine where French sonorities clearly prevail. A particular highlight is the Fantasy and Fugue on the Genevan Psalm 47 for organ duet, in which Portman is joined at the organ by the composer. Portman delivers ﬂawless performances throughout with plenty of ﬂair, bringing to life Laurin’s imaginative and demanding scores.
Brenda Portman plays organ music composed by Rachel Laurin as inspired by sacred themes. The organ is the 4m Casavant of 88 ranks at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Rachel Laurin, Composer:
Acclamations, Op. 37
Petite Suite sur un Motet de Gerald Bales, Op. 41:
I. Fantaisie: “Let the Earth Celebrate the Lord . . .”
II. Cantabile: “Mountains and Hills . . .”
III. Toccatina: “Praise Him . . .”
Four Pilgrimages in Lorraine, Op. 30 [Quatre Pèlerinages en Lorraine, Op. 30]:
I. Cathédrale de Metz: Procession (sur le Gloria de la messe XV)
II. Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-de-Sion: Invocation (sur les Litanies de Lorette)
III. Basilique de Domremy: Fileuse (sur l’Alleluia de la fête de Saint Michel Archange)
IV. Verdun, Centre Mondial de la Paix: Marche pour la Paix (sur le répons Da pacem, Domine)
Tone Poem for the Advent Season, Op. 69 [Poème Symphonique pour le Temps de l’Avent, Op. 69 sur l’hymne Creator Alme Siderum et sur le Kyrie de la Messe XVIII (Deus Genitor Alme)]
Etude-Caprice “Beelzebub’s Laugh,” Op. 66
Fantasy and Fugue on the Genevan Psalm 47, Op. 62, for organ duet, with Rachel Laurin, organist
A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for its spiritual significance. For some, this might be a journey to a specific location, in order to walk in the footsteps of a revered person. For others, it could be a journey into one’s personal beliefs, a search for something within oneself. Whether it is a physical or metaphorical journey, the pilgrim seeks an escape from the busyness of everyday life in order to experience a deeper connection with God or one’s faith.
The title “Pilgrimages” refers most tangibly to the third piece of this album, in which the listener embarks on four short pilgrimages to sacred sites in the Lorraine region of France. However, the remaining selections were also inspired by a wide variety of sacred themes, including a cathedral procession, a celebratory motet, a Gregorian hymn, the devil’s laugh, and a vigorous psalm tune. The composer has brought each of these themes to life in a brilliant and descriptive way, using the full palette of colors on the organ. The listener may be swept into a different type of pilgrimage, a musical journey through time and space – one which brings wonder and awe, new revelations, and a brief respite from the demands of life.
It was a joy to work with Rachel on this project. We began discussing it in October 2014, and it has indeed been a musical pilgrimage for me! One of the highlights along the journey was performing and recording the Fantasy and Fugue with her in November 2015 in Cincinnati. Rachel is a delightful person, and at times I think we did almost as much laughing as we did practicing! It has been my privilege to become acquainted with her incredible music. It is primarily symphonic in style, rooted in traditional forms and structures, and she uses a tonal-modal language colored by chromaticism. Her earlier style was influenced by French composers such as Widor and Vierne, but she believes that the music she writes now is “not particularly influenced by music of France, Germany, England, or any others, but bears the mark of a North-American craft: a ‘New World’ influence, which offers a synthesis of the ‘Old Europe’ tradition in a personal way.” As organists and audiences discover and enjoy Rachel’s music, I am convinced that we are only beginning to see the enormous legacy she is creating through her compositional art.
I am proud to have the opportunity to share this music, most of which receives its premiere recording on this CD, with the greater community of organ-music-lovers around the world.
— Brenda Portman
Acclamations, Op. 37
Acclamations, composed in September 2003, occurs in the catalogue of the composer between the Symphony No. 1, Op. 36 (premiered during the spring of 2003) and the Étude Héroïque, Op. 38 (composed during the winter of 2004). When she received this commission, Rachel Laurin was Titular Organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa. The President of the Canadian Association of the Order of Malta, Mr. Théodore J. Arcand, intending to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this prestigious association, commissioned this march to be performed at the occasion of their annual investiture ceremony at the Cathedral. The composer premiered the piece during the long and majestic final procession of the Knights of Malta, October 18, 2003. This is a “circumstance piece” based on original themes, in a grandiose and festive spirit. A version for organ and brass (two trumpets, one trombone) was also produced, at the request of the commissioner.
Petite Suite sur un Motet de Gerald Bales, Op. 41
Completed in May 2005, the Petite Suite sur un Motet de Gerald Bales, Op. 41, was commissioned by the Royal Canadian College of Organists as part of the organ book Te Deum Laudamus, Volume II, intended as a tribute to Gerald Bales, who died in 2002. Gerald Bales was a prominent Canadian organist, conductor, and composer. For part of his career, he served as Music Director at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis from 1959 to 1971 before returning to Canada to teach organ and choral conducting at the University of Ottawa.
The title of this piece refers to an organ composition by Bales himself entitled Petite Suite. Laurin also chose a well-known motet by Gerald Bales, Let the Earth Celebrate the Lord, to give more depth to the homage. The three movements, contrasting in character, are directly linked to the text of the motet, and the different musical motives also originated from the melodic motives of the song. Even the introductory arpeggios are drawn from the organ accompaniment of Bales’ motet. Since it is a well-known choral piece among Canadian church musicians, this organ piece was immediately familiar to the audience when it was premiered by the composer in June 2005 at the Royal Canadian College of Organists National Convention in London, Ontario.
The first movement of the Petite Suite is a fantasy, beginning with arpeggiated figuration in an improvisatory manner. The theme “Let the earth celebrate the Lord” is pronounced in a playful manner in measures 23-26, with staccato echoes of “Celebrate the Lord” heard subsequently. The same theme is heard in a more somber fashion at measure 31. After another short arpeggiated section, the two characterizations of the theme recur, before ending with more arpeggios and a soft echo of “Celebrate the Lord.” The Cantabile second movement draws its inspiration from the words “Mountains and hills and all that grows upon the earth.” The melody, which again matches the speech-rhythm of the text, is stated simply at first and then embellished. The final movement, in the style of a toccata, introduces new text: “Praise Him and exalt Him,” while also borrowing the themes from the first two movements and embedding them within the toccata figuration.
Quatre Pèlerinages en Lorraine, Op. 30
Four Pilgrimages in Lorraine, Op. 30
Commissioned by the president of Association Jeanne-d’Arc and Artistic Director of Europart-Music, M. l’Abbé Armand Ory, this suite was composed and published in 1996. It was intended to represent the four departments of this region in northeastern France, for the huge annual music fair Salon Musicora in Paris. The four movements are composed on Gregorian themes, and each one depicts one of the four departments of Lorraine.
The first piece is linked to the department of Moselle, picturing a procession in the great medieval cathedral of Metz. The theme is a very old Gregorian chant (Gloria of Mass XV), and the music grows as the procession evolves, from medieval language to modern idiom, showing the relationship between tradition and modernity. The second movement, Invocation, is associated with the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. The beautiful and panoramic sacred site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sion gave inspiration to a mystic and prayerful musical moment, composed on the Litany of Loreto. The third, Fileuse, pays a visit to the Basilica of Domremy, located in the Vosges department, the native village of the French heroine and iconic saint from the fifteenth century, Joan of Arc. The theme is the Alleluia of the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. The scene depicts the valiant young girl transforming the linen on her spinning- wheel and hearing in an echo effect the voices of the Archangel convincing her to lead a battle for recovery of France from English domination. The echo effect is musically rendered by short melodic canons throughout the piece, and the middle section with the trumpet chords represents the battle to come. The atmosphere comes back to its quiet mood of daily life, as if Joan of Arc awakened from a dream.
The last movement of the suite, Marche pour la Paix, stops in Verdun, where an important historical palace is now devoted to international peace as the Verdun World Peace Center. Verdun is located in the Meuse department and is sadly known for a horrible battle during the First World War, one of the most costly in human lives of all the Great World Wars. It is now the final resting place for more than 14,000 Americans who died on this field. The music paraphrases the Gregorian response Da Pacem Domine (Give Peace, O Lord), and it describes a crowded march organized to promote peace in the world. It evolves into a big gathering where prayers, songs, and slogans are mixed in a collective clamor, leading to a very dramatic and crashing chord sustained on a fermata in the last part of the piece, suggesting a plea to end these horrible wars. This gives way to very soft ethereal chords, with a brief melody on a 4’ flute evoking a beautiful dove of peace in the air.
Poème Symphonique pour le Temps de l’Avent, Op. 69
Tone Poem for the Advent Season, Op. 69
The Tone Poem for the Advent Season was commissioned by Isabelle Demers and completed on October 31, 2013. It is inspired by the text of the hymn for Vespers on the First Sunday in Advent, Creator Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night). The first notes of the Kyrie of Mass XVIII (Deus Genitor Alme) provide a melodic motif of contrasting character, constituting a sort of second theme that appears to almost haunt the principal subject.
The piece is in an improvised and spontaneous style, appearing in the form of variations on the principal theme. The title “Tone Poem” describes so-called program music in which the text of the Advent hymn is paraphrased and put to music. Thus, the beginning, with its sparkling stops, evokes the “starry world;” the Kyrie represents “our supplications,” repeated insistently; the staccato chromatic octaves bring to mind the “traps of Satan;” fanfares on the reed stops comment on “divine power and glory;” and an allusion to the 15th-century motet Conditor Alme Siderum by composer Guillaume Dufay (circa 1400-1474) is meant to represent the innocence of the “spotless Victim,” as well as being an announcement of the Christmas season because of its pastoral character. There follows a more lyrical passage of the principal theme, reflecting the “impulse of the love of the Saviour” cited in the text. The starry world returns with its sparkle of high sounds on the organ to lead us to the “great Judge of the final day,” to whom we pray “to defend us from our enemies,” before again depicting “power, honour, praise and glory” in a triumphant style. The stars conclude the piece, until the “Amen,” with the Kyrie becoming insistent in an obstinate manner in the left hand, thus contrasting the firmament with human weakness. The last chord, played on the céleste stops on the manuals, and on the lowest note of the pedal, refers to the words “in the heavens and among the dead.” However, there is no need to know the words of the hymn in order to be able to appreciate the music!
This composition was premiered by Isabelle Demers on December 1, 2013, at the newly installed Casavant organ of the Palais Montcalm in Québec City.
Étude-Caprice, Op. 66 “Beelzebub’s Laugh”
(“Le Rire de Belzébuth”)
This piece was commissioned by Ken Cowan, composed in March-April 2013, and premiered July 3, 2013, in Austin, Texas at Bates Recital Hall, University of Texas, at the AGO-Region VII Convention.
Ken’s first reflections regarding this commission were clear and relevant: “… One of my notions about the organ repertoire is that we need more character pieces in the 4-8- minute range (scherzos, lyric pieces that bring out the cantabile and orchestral side of the organ, pieces with impressive journeys but soft beginnings/endings that can be delightful for programs) … a ‘Scherzo- Symphonique’ sort of caprice, which would make a wonderful Étude as well …”.
The composer writes, “Here I was, with a second Étude in mind, in a ‘scherzando’ mood and looking for something I did not already write in the Étude héroïque, Op. 38! I began to focus on the technical problem of repeated notes at the organ, which reminded me of the sound of a sarcastic laugh. I am always fascinated by Paganini’s 24 violin Caprices which explore the extreme virtuosic aspects of the instrument, in a very delightful musical way, bringing an attractive effect to the listener. My “laugh” idea reminded me of the Paganini Caprice titled Le Rire du Diable (The Devil’s Laugh): this piece explores staccato diatonic scales rather than repeated notes or chromatic successions. I wanted to keep my distance from Paganini and chose to explore the idea of Beelzebub, which is one of the many names given to the Devil as well as Satan and Lucifer. Through my non-musical research on Beelzebub, I learned that the last part of the name ‘Zebûb’ or ‘Zoubeb’ would possibly mean a fly, a mosquito or a little bug. Then, I discovered a 19th-century illustration of a giant fly, published in the Dictionnaire infernal by Collin de Plancy, in Paris (1863). I did not need more to begin the piece!
Two contrasting motives evolve throughout the work: the Devil’s laugh in repeated notes and staccato chromatic descending chords/scales, and secondly a melodic theme accompanied by a legato chromatic movement (as a fly) above or below the melody. The resulting structure appears finally as a fantasia with three themes (a capriccio can be defined nowadays as a Fantasia in the light character of a Scherzo) focusing on repeated notes, manual staccatos, legato technique on manuals and pedal, plus a little pedal etude in the middle (foreshadowing the Etude No. 3, Op. 72 for solo pedal!). This work is not really a Tone-Poem, but rather a succession of tableaux linked together in a story that everyone can imagine differently with the common theme of the opposition of good and evil.”
In his concert notes, Ken Cowan cleverly illustrates his understanding of the music: “The ‘laugh’ of this flying foe amusing itself is represented by repeated, descending chromatic chords. A lyric, second theme introduces a contrasting, more flowing character, but like one trying to go about their business in the presence of a buzzing fly, it is constantly interrupted by its adversarial counterpart.”
Fantasy and Fugue on the Genevan Psalm 47, Op. 62, for organ duet
Commissioned by the Royal Canadian College of Organists - Edmonton Centre, for Duo Majoya (Marnie Giesbrecht and Joachim Segger), to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Davis concert organ, Winspear Centre, (Edmonton, Alberta) this work was premiered by Duo Majoya on September 9, 2012.
Rachel Laurin was chosen as a composer for this special event, in part because she had been involved in the inaugural festivities for this new organ ten years earlier. In 2002, she was asked by Canadian composer Jacques Hétu to perform as soloist for the premiere of his Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 68, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. This work was commissioned specifically for the inauguration of the new Létourneau organ. After the very successful premiere, Hétu and Laurin worked closely together for the publishing of the concerto, and Mr. Hétu dedicated the piece to Rachel Laurin. Jacques Hétu died in February 2010, and this sad departure became an important source of inspiration for Laurin’s new organ duet.
Majoya proposed, as a theme and structure, a Fantasy and Fugue on the old Genevan Psalm 47. Probably composed by Louis Bourgeois in 1551 and harmonized by Claude Goudimel, the original French text has been translated into numerous languages, in old and modern versions. The psalm begins with “Nations, clap your hands; shout with joy, you lands! Awesome is the Lord! Spread His fame abroad…” The Fantasy includes two themes, the psalm exposed in its rhythmical dance-like swing, and the second theme reminding us of the principal theme of Hétu’s concerto: a melodic and chromatic motive, easily recognizable. Psalm 47 is treated in many shapes and orchestral colors, and the second theme is exposed in the character of a funeral march, in order to pay a tribute to the late composer.
Very soon in the Fantasy, one is reminded that more than one organist is involved in the performance (!) whereas four-feet/ four-hands can be identified through three manuals used simultaneously on very distant ranges, and on contrasting sounds. The various atmospheres were mostly inspired by the successive verses describing the power of God, his protection and tenderness towards his people, the exuberant joy his nations should demonstrate, etc. The fugue subject is derived from the rhythmic and chromatic descending motive of the last bars of the Fantasy. The cantus firmus in the pedal, in the middle of the movement, brings back Psalm 47, superimposed by the re-exposition of the fugue on the manuals. The impressive, powerful, and heavy texture built gradually through the end gives the effect of a “cathedral” of sounds. A fanfare-like ostinato on the first notes of the psalm introduces the final and triumphant coda.
— Rachel Laurin and Brenda Portman
Rachel Laurin (b. 1961, St-Benoît des Deux-Montagnes, Québec, Canada) was Associate Organist at St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montréal (1986- 2002) and Titular Organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Ottawa (2002- 2006). She now devotes herself to recitals, composition, master-classes and lectures.
She has made twelve recordings, including seven as a soloist, and has performed organ recitals in Canada, the United States and Europe. Rachel Laurin is well known as an improviser and has taught this art in many schools including the Montréal Conservatory, the Summer School of Sacred Music in Épinal, France, the Mount Royal Summer Academy in Calgary (AB), and in many workshops in Canada and USA. As a Distinguished Guest Artist, she visited universities including Yale; Baylor; University of Kansas (Lawrence); Syracuse; St. Lawrence (Canton, NY); St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN); the Peabody Conservatory; and the University of Alberta (Edmonton).
Rachel Laurin was appointed House Composer at Wayne Leupold Editions in 2006 and an Associate Composer at the Canadian Music Centre in 1989. She has composed more than a hundred works for various solo instruments, voice, instrumental ensembles, choir, and orchestra, including a Piano Concerto and a Concerto for organ, string orchestra and timpani. Most of her compositions are published, recognized internationally, and have been performed and recorded on the five continents.
A program devoted to her work as a composer and organist, Rachel’s Children, was broadcast by Micheal Barone on Pipedreams in October 2012. Recently, she set Madeleine Gagnon’s book of poetry titled Chant pour un Québec lointain for voice and piano. Its fourteen movements in three cycles reach a duration of 72 minutes. Recent commissions and premieres include Symphonic Etude for Solo Pedal, Op. 72; Fantasy and Fugue in D Major, Op. 73; Aria and Fugue in A for Aaron, Op. 74 for the organ; as well as the cantate brève Tranquilles Épiphanies, Op. 76, on poetry by Andrée Christensen, for SATB choir and piano.
—Rachel Laurin, www.RachelLaurin.com
Brenda Portman is the Resident Organist at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati and the Executive Director of the church’s renowned Organ Concert Series. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree (2016) in organ performance from the University of Cincinnati – College-Conservatory of Music, where she received a full scholarship as first prize winner of the Strader Organ Competition and served as teaching assistant for the organ department. She holds music degrees from Northwestern University (2003) and Wheaton College (2002) and has studied with John Behnke, Edward Zimmerman, Douglas Cleveland, Marilyn Mason, Roberta Gary, and Michael Unger.
In October 2014, Brenda Portman was the only American woman to compete in the Canadian International Organ Competition in Montréal. Her performance there led to a friendship and collaboration with Canadian composer Rachel Laurin, out of which grew this recording of Laurin’s music on the 88-rank Casavant organ at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church. Dr. Portman has been a prizewinner in numerous other competitions, including first place in the Arthur Poister Organ Competition (2007), first place in the Albert Schweitzer Organ Competition (2006), and third place in the Rodgers North American Classical Organ Competition (2012). She has participated in the British and French Organ Music Seminars, winning first place in the Bank District British/American Organ Competition (2009) and performing a winner’s recital at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. She has also been a finalist in the Fort Wayne National Organ-Playing Competition (2010) and a semi-finalist in the AGO’s National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance (2010).
Generated from her doctoral research on minimalism and twentieth-century Dutch organ music, Dr. Portman’s article The Eclectic Landscape of Ride in a High-Speed Train, about the above-named composition by Ad Wammes, was published in December 2015 in The Diapason. Another article, Minimalism or Not? A Closer Look at Ad Wammes’s “Miroir,” was accepted for a later publication date by The American Organist.
Brenda Portman previously recorded a CD of organ works of Edwin T. Childs entitled All Might and Majesty (2009) on the Schantz organ at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. She commissioned Dr. Childs to write a new multi-movement organ work (Pentecost Suite) which she premiered in June 2014 for the tenth anniversary of the Organ Concert Series at Hyde Park Church. Also a composer, Brenda Portman writes primarily sacred choral, vocal, and organ works. Her concert settings of hymns for solo voice and piano have been highly acclaimed by many professional singers, and three hymn preludes for organ were included in the Bayoubüchlein (published by Selah) for the 2016 AGO convention in Houston. She also won an award in 2014 for writing the music to a hymn commissioned for the 300th anniversary of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Brenda Portman lives in Cincinnati with her husband Patrick and three children.
Casavant Frères, Opus 3671, 1990
Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio
Gallery Grand Orgue
Flûte harmonique 8
Flûte à cheminée 8
Flûte ouverte 4
Fourniture harmonique II-IV
Plein Jeu IV
Trompette royale 8 (Solo)
G. O. Unisson Muet
Chancel Grand Orgue
Flûte à cheminée 8
Flûte à fuseau 4
Flûte à bec 2
G. O. Unisson Muet
Gallery Récit/G. O.
Chancel Récit/G. O.
Gallery Positif/G. O.
Chimes to G. O.
Trompette royale 8
Gallery G. O./Solo
Chancel G. O./Solo
Gallery Récit (enc.)
Bourdon doux 16
Cor de nuit 8
Viole de gambe 8
Voix céleste 8
Flûte octaviante 4
Plein Jeu V
Trompette harmonique 8
Voix humaine 8
Récit Unisson Muet
Chimes (in Gallery Récit, playable on G. O. or Péd.)
Chancel Récit (enc.)
Viole de gambe 8
Voix céleste 8
Flûte ouverte 4
Plein Jeu IV
Récit Unisson Muet
Flûte douce 4
Clochette (c: , c’: 1)
Cymbale harmonique II-V
Postif Unisson Muet
Trompette royale 8 (Solo)
Gallery G. O./Pos.
Bourdon doux 16
Contre bombarde 32
Contre Bourdon 32
Gallery G. O./Péd. 8
Chancel G. O./Péd. 8
Gallery Récit/Péd. 8, 4
Chancel Récit/Péd. 8, 4
Gallery Solo/Péd. 8
Chimes to Ped.
Solid State, 64 memories, capture system
General Pistons: 19
6 Next Pistons
2 Previous Pistons
Gallery: 63 Ranks
Chancel: 25 Ranks
Total: 4,843 Pipes