GEORGE WALKER: Mass – Morgan State College Choir; Baltimore Sym. Orch./ Sergiu Comissiona;  Psalms 96 and 117 – Morgan State Choir/ Dr. Nathan Carter; BRAHMS: Concerto for Piano No. 2 in B Flat Major – George Walker, p./ Eastman Philharmonia Orch./Howard Hanson – Albany TROY1447, 78:09 (11/1/13) – Recording of the Mass *, Brahms **, Psalms ****:

George Walker is a rightly-honored American composer, and the first composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Born in 1922, Walker is still alive and resides in New Jersey.

On this disc we get a performance of the Walker Mass, first performed in 1977. The Mass is an epic work, dark in character, and a real challenge for both the instrumentalists and the choir. The Mass was composed on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sadly, Walkers music is not well served by this recording. It is muffled, the chorus is blurred, and at three minutes into the first movement there appears to be a tape slippage that brings the concert to a momentary halt while the tape slides and the pitch falls. Sadly, this is the only recording of the Mass I can locate. I’d love to hear it in a decent recording.

The recording of Walker’s two Psalm settings, Psalm 17 and 96 are a welcome relief from the Mass. They are crisp and clear. The compositions are lyrical and very affecting.

Finally, we get another side of Walker’s talent. The Brahms Concerto for Piano No. 2 in B Flat Major. This is another archival recording from 1956 with Howard Hanson conducting the Eastman Philharmonic Orchestra. Walker is the soloist in a performance that was part of a scholastic requirement for his Artist Diploma. Walker plays with precision, but the recording, while far better than the wretched Mass, is mostly boosted mid-range which is typical of recordings from that period.

I realize these are historical recordings, but Walker is not honored by this botched release. If you pick up the CD, there is nothing written on the case to tell you these recording are archival, and even the liner notes do not mention any sonic issues. It certainly makes me want to hear more of his music, because he is extremely talented as a composer and performer.

—Mel Martin