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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

William Grant Still, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, Wood Notes, John Jeter, Fort Smith Symphony

In this third volume of the orchestral music of William Grant Still (1895-1978) by John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony (Naxos 8.559676) I found many reasons why Still's music still speaks to us today. As the most prominent Afro-American classical composer of his generation, he does not simply fit into a ready-made category. Listen to the three works on this set and you get Still the melodist, the impressive orchestrator, the impressionist-romantic-Americana voice of originality.

The marvelously evocative "Wood Notes" (1947) (here in its world premiere recording) puts four pastoral vignettes together that draw on the tonality of traditional black America as well as the rural invocation of nature. It is a delight.

The two symphonies represented here (No. 2 from 1937; No. 3 from 1958) similarly evoke folk-ethnic-natural imagery through tone painting of a high order.

This is music that will breathe fresh air into the cobwebs of your typical listening patterns. It is performed with balance and care by Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony. Recommended.

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