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Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, September 2012

Bolcom’s refracted hymn tunes on the Rockefeller chapel organ

Few composers have as much surprising material up their sleeves as William Bolcom, who can usually be counted upon to devise intriguing soundscapes in whatever genre he’s tackling. This certainly holds true for his Gospel Preludes, a dozen hymns for solo organ that Bolcolm tweaks with invigorating, respectful and often feisty brilliance. Gregory Hand gives the collection sonorous and probing performances on the Skinner organ at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

The music throughout the collection is eclectic, in true Bolcom fashion, with jazz elements rubbing shoulders with cabaret ideas and spiky 20th-century techniques. It is a smorgasbord of creative musings reverent and otherwise, as well as a lexicon of organ possibilities. With all limbs at his musical command, Hand brings a spectrum of expressive and sonic shadings to Bolcom’s gospel tour de force. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, September 2012

Bolcom has painted well the state of much of American Christianity, with the revivalist hymns flirting with High Church musical traditions, ramming their heads against a century of dissonance, whirling around the floor with Black gospel music, walking the sawdust trail teary-eyed, trusting in their own wretched urgency, but ineptly and accidentally finding Christ’s light burden and easy yoke in spite of themselves. The preludes are us, tortured, laughing it all off, taking it seriously again, and coming back to the church as it should be: a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints, where the unfamiliar incense covers the stale cigarette smell still in our grubby clothes, and where the blood imparted in little sips doesn’t care if it’s a chaser to last night’s rum.

It’s a compliment to Bolcom that these dozen preludes can be so personal. And they don’t care much about being genteel! When they feel the need to burst into song (or “Let ‘er rip”, as I would hear shouted at camp-meeting services), they do without warning, and it’s tinged with the thrill of breaking a taboo. When Bolcom writes in a black gospel style, he’s not just aping the harmonies; he gets the essence of it in the elongated melody lines. Art should sometimes be a commentary on culture, and that’s what these preludes are. They’re an important addition to the organ repertory, and they’re an accurate reflection of American Christianity. Gregory Hand has done a stunning job here… © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Carson Cooman
Fanfare, July 2012

William Bolcom (b.1938) needs little introduction to the concertgoing or record-buying public, and selections from his magnum opus for organ, Gospel Preludes (1979–84), have been frequent inclusions on organ recitals since their composition. Though a number of the individual preludes have been recorded, the complete set of 12 has not previously appeared on disc. Each prelude is based on a traditional hymn tune, and the set is organized into four books of three preludes each.

These pieces are totally characteristic of Bolcom’s ultra-American eclectic compositional style: a seamless blend of traditional classical and avant-garde elements with gospel, folk, cabaret, and pop styles. Each prelude is compelling in its own way, though particular gems are the unapologetically full gospel “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the extended set of variations on Amazing Grace…and the final “Free Fantasia on O Zion, Haste and How Firm a Foundation .” This last piece is often played on its own, but it gains its greatest impact as the conclusion to the whole set of preludes. It demonstrates Bolcom’s voice at its finest, as an atmospheric and very dissonant setting of the first hymn leads unexpectedly but inevitably to a jazzy, tonal presentation of the second.

Hand plays with flair and conviction and is a terrific advocate for these pieces. Recorded sound is excellent…This CD is an absolute must for fans of either organ music or of Bolcom, but I think almost anybody would enjoy these pieces. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare, May 2012

Intriguing keyboard works of a much later age, our own, the Gospel Preludes of William Bolcom (born 1938) bear fascinating testimony to the compositional virtuosity and multifaceted style of one of America’s most important composers. Written in four “Books” of three preludes each, the works are all tied to hymns but are scarcely devotional in any generic sense…there is contemplative quietude from time to time, but there are also jazz and swing, and there are brilliant figurations and out-and-out virtuosity…Gregory Hand plays all 12 of the preludes with sureness and understanding, providing full solemnity when it is called for while offering out-and-out exuberance when that is what Bolcom requires. © 2012 Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, May 2012

It’s cathedral organ music in the grand tradition, dynamic, big, vibrant, and yet it is also a somewhat eccentric take on both the hymns and the prelude form.

If in the course of all this the music is lively, fun, and a bit irreverent in ways uniquely Bolcomian.

These are not quite like anything else and yet the spirit of Charles Ives…is honored while forwarding the very singular post-modernism of Bolcom himself.

Recommended. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, April 2012

unfailingly strange and evocative, to put it mildly. And devotedly played by organist Gregory Hand. © 2012 The Buffalo News Read complete review

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