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Still: Afro-American Symphony / In Memoriam / Africa [CD]

William Grant Still , John Jeter , Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra Audio CD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Frequently Bought Together

Still: Afro-American Symphony / In Memoriam / Africa + Still: Symphonies Nos. 2 &3/ Wood Note (Naxos: 8.559676) + W.G Still: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5
Price For All Three: £18.00

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Product details

  • Orchestra: Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: John Jeter
  • Composer: William Grant Still
  • Audio CD (28 Feb 2005)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0007ORDYU
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,019 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. In Memoriam - William Grant Still
2. Africa (Symphonic Poem) - William Grant Still
3. Symphony No. 1 'Afro-American' - William Grant Still

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected find 8 Dec 2012
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
As a result of reading Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, i discovered there were African American composers working at the same time as Copland et al, and their works were being performed and popular. Ross mentions W G Still, so I gave it a go, and it's really well worth a listen. Tuneful, but by no means lightweight, this should be heard in concert halls again.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Very American Music of William Grant Still 4 Aug 2005
By M. C. Passarella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
To tell the truth, I wanted to start this review by saying that William Grant Still is one of those one-work wonders of a composer of which the opera world has so many examples (Leoncavallo, Giordano, etc., etc.). But then I listened a few times more to "Africa," given its premiere recording here. Its melodies and musical gestures may be less striking than those in Still's one big work, the Afro-American Symphony, also included on this disc. On the other hand, "Africa" has some very compelling music, too, and is colorfully orchestrated in Still's signature manner. Just listen to the soft solo for timpani at the start: this sets the mood immediately for the first movement, entitled "Land of Peace." It is indeed peaceful music but with some added spice to keep the listener on his or her toes. The last movement, "Land of Superstition," seems to me rather bland given its title, but overall, this music is an attractive travelogue in the manner of Virgil Thomson's film scores from the 1930s, anticipating them in fact by several years. Along with Thomson, Still can probably be credited with pioneering the use of pop-musical influences to effectively create local color.

That truth is even more evident in the Afro-American Symphony. You have to sit up and take notice when a symphony begins with a blues refrain that's quickly answered by a quirky little jazz riff in the winds. It's like a little scene from a musical of the 1930s: chase your blues away, says that little jazz riff. But then you realize this is a genuine symphonic first movement in well-argued sonata form, and you've got to be impressed.

The notes to this recording point out that the bouncy third movement (with banjo obbligato, first time in a symphony certainly!) has a main theme very similar to George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Actually, Still came up with his melody before Gershwin wrote his song, but Still and Gershwin supposedly influenced one another, so maybe Gershwin cribbed a bit from Still. Hearing the very dramatic episodes in the first and last movements that seem to forecast scenes in "Porgy and Bess," I wonder if Still didn't influence Gershwin much more than the reverse.

Be that as it may, I find, as with "Africa," that the symphony is let down a bit by the finale, though it does end with an appropriately dramatic peroration, leaving a bold impression. All things considered, this is one of the best symphonies written by an American and certainly one of the most American of all.

I have nothing but praise for the performances. The Fort Smith Symphony takes this music to heart and presents it with great feeling and with the kind of abandon that comes when musicians have lived with music for a while and have gotten it into their blood. Sure, this is a regional orchestra instead of one of America's Big Five, but if so, these excellent performances just speak to the general quality of American orchestras even out in the hinterlands. Conductor John Jeter probably deserves a good deal of credit as well. And while I'm at it, kudos to the Naxos engineers too. The recording has fine presence and detail. Given Naxos' price, this disc is the way to go if you want to acquire William Grant Still's classic.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long Lost Symphony 28 July 2005
By Catherine P. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
It's one of the tragedies of the 20th century that Still's Symphonic Suite AFRICA has never been recorded in its symphonic version before. Two versions for piano don't begin to give an idea of its rich color and expressiveness. In spite of the no-name orchestra (so to speak) this is a good recording of a truly beautiful work. I don't think Still ever composed anything better. The opening track, IN MEMORIAM, is also a novelty. Sit back and enjoy!

Catherine Parsons Smith (author of WILLIAM GRANT STILL: A STUDY IN CONTRADICTIONS)
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing! 21 April 2005
By K. L. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is a great CD of the world premiere recording of the remarkable American classical music composer, William Grant Still. Performed by the Fort Smith Symphony, under the direction of John Jeter, it is beautiful and inspiring. The viola section plays exceptionally well.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Slice Of Americana 4 July 2009
By Transfigured Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
William Grant Still was the first African-American classical composer and during his time he composed many works which capture the essence of the American experience. He's not talked about much today with all the Mahler, Sibelius, and Brahms that floods the market, which is truly a shame, because Still had some great things to say musically. His music is hardly ever performed. Neeme Jarvi has performed some of Still's music, but Jarvi fails to capture the spirit of Still's music I think.

Now, thanks to the good folks at Naxos, we have this great disc of rarely heard Still compositions. I have never heard of John Jeter or the Fort Smith Symphony, which are located in Arkansas, but I have to hand it to this conductor and orchestra they handle this music beautifully. It's really refreshing to hear music that's hardly ever performed. In fact, two pieces "In Memoriam" and "Africa" are World Premiere recordings.

If you're at all curious about American composers and have already explored Ives, Barber, and Copland, then get a copy of this disc. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine music in overall good performances 10 Jun 2010
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
William Grant Still's first Symphony, presently known as the "Afro American", is a rather stirring and attractive work. It has fared relatively well on disc, but this disc is most welcome for the excellent advocacy it receives and for the opportunity to hear some of Still's other, hitherto unrecorded works. Tuneful, sometimes even memorably so, Still's first symphony was a success at its 1930 premiere and rather successfully weds the spirit of the blues (and jazz and spirituals) to a generally conservative classical idiom. Still was the pupil of George Chadwick and Edgard Varése, and - interestingly - seems to have picked up a trick or two from both of them, even if his own music never ventures far in the direction of the latter composer. Still's background also included jazz and a rich African-American heritage, which he skillfully integrated into his otherwise relatively classically oriented compositional language.

The first movement of the symphony, `Longing', is the most obviously bluesy movement, but apart from that reminded me almost of Dvorak in American mode. The second, `Sorrow', draws rather successfully on spirituals and the third, `Humor', looks towards ragtime as well as jazz (it even employs a banjo - quite effectively, even). The final movement, `Aspiration', pulls together the themes from the previous movements into a symphonic whole (even though it is, in the end, probably the weakest movement). Overall, this is a very fine work (though calling it 'great' or 'a masterpiece' as some reviewers do is stretching it) that surely deserves to be heard by anyone with even the slightest interest in American music.

A bonus is the inclusion of world premiere recordings of the stirring In Memoriam and the colorful symphonic poem Africa. `In Memorian: The Colored soldiers who died for democracy' dates from 1943 and is a restrained, rather hauntingly beautiful work. Africa was originally written for chamber orchestra (and is known in its piano version) but revised for full orchestra in 1930. It depicts Africa as mythical, imagined rather than actual place (Still probably never visited Africa). Cast in three movements, the first, `Land of Peace', is a vivid picture of the beauty and spirituality of the land, the second, `Land of Romance', evokes the yearning of those shipped away to slavery for their homeland, whereas the third, `Land of Superstition', colorfully (and ominously) describes the fears and terrors spurred by ancient myths and false notions (the downside of the spirituality, I surmise). It is overall a colorful work and quite individual in sound; it's an interesting listening experience even though I am less sure that it has much lasting merit (sometimes one does feel that being (self-)designated to bridge the gap between classical music and the African-American musical heritage was a limitation on Still's development of his musical language than anything else).

Performances are overall impressive, even if the Fort Smith Orchestra seems not to have the ideal tonal weight for the music - more body, depth and sheen would not have gone amiss in this music. Yet they make up a lot with spirit and flair, and John Jeter seems to have the measure of the music. Sound quality is fine, and overall this disc deserves a firm recommendation.
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