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William Grant STILL (1895-1978)
Carmela from Vignettes Trio (1962) [2.35]
Bambalele e Espin Garda – Two Brazilian folk songs from Folk Suite No.1 (1962) [2.11]
Here’s One African-American Spiritual (1941) arranged Louis Kaufman [2.44]
Summerland from Three Visions Suite (1935) [3.56]
Suite for Violin and Piano (1943) [14.41]
Blues from the Ballet Lenox Avenue (1935) arranged Louis Kaufman [3.30]
Quit Dat Fool’nish (1935) [1.15]
Two Cameos – Picnic with Sheilah [1.10]; Procession of the Ants [1.43]
Pastorela – tone poem (1946) [11.07]
Clifford Panton (violin)
Jason Alfred (piano)
rec. June 2004 in LSU Recital Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
CENTAUR CRC 2750 [45.37]

With the exception of his raunchier morceaux for violin I tend to prefer Grant Still when he’s working on a larger canvass. A recent disc of his piano music reviewed by me on this site was depressingly threadbare and it did his reputation little good. But the violin was his first formal study, even ahead of the piano. One could reasonably expect greater tension from him when writing for his own instrument and when writing for an executant such as Louis Kaufman, who could cast such a tonal spell.

A couple of the pieces here were arranged by Kaufman but he actually recorded many more back on LP. Collectors will remember that his arrangement of the Blues from the ballet Lenox Avenue has made a CD appearance on Cambria in a Bernard Herrmann orchestration but Carmela, Here’s One African-American Spiritual (recorded twice), Summerland, the Suite (twice) and Pastorela have yet to appear, so far as I’m aware – a situation that I hope will change ... and soon.

That leaves the field open to the current Centaur pairing. Given that only two of these pieces were actually originally written for the violin – the Suite and Pastorela – a duo needs to work hard to keep timbral interest alive. There’s an attractive melancholy in the knowingly (if oddly) titled Here’s One African-American Spiritual of 1941. The Suite itself features some loping blues tints and Gershwinesque jazz in the outer movements but it’s the central movement that most captures the imagination. This is a song without words, full of warm piano chording, and a good start for those unfamiliar with Grant Still’s capacity for spinning a melodic line. The Two Cameos are undated and little more than squibs and in this performance Pastorela, a full eleven minutes in length and designated as a tone poem, fails to get going.

Which brings me to the performances, which are strongly weighted to the keyboard in terms of control – Jason Alfred plays well. Clifford Panton is a decent enough player but his tone is thin – it requires the opulence of a Kaufman to bring life to these pieces – and there are too many incidents of caution and fragile bowing (unfortunately in the Suite as well) for comfortable listening. His intonation is also not good.

A cautious welcome then. The repertoire is not especially exciting, all said and done. To attempt to reclaim it we really need a violinist who can dig deep and show some sheer unselfconscious molten panache.

Jonathan Woolf



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