Aureole etc.




Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Some items
to consider

 


Enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra wherever you are. App available for iOS and Android

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


Decca Phase 4 - 40CDs


Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 


 
REVIEW



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 

alternatively
CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline


William Grant STILL (1895 - 1978)
Symphony No. 5 ‘Western Hemisphere’ (1945 rev. 1970) [19:37]
Poem for Orchestra (1944) [10:27]
Symphony No. 4 ‘Autochthonous’ (1947) [26:15]
Fort Smith Symphony/John Jeter
rec Arkansas Best Corporation Performing Arts Center, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA, 23-24 May 2009
NAXOS 8.559603 [56:24]

Experience Classicsonline

Musically this disc has proved to be something of a disappointment. In the past I have really enjoyed William Grant Still’s music. The companion disc of the earlier symphonies from Naxos is a winner and in particular a disc on the short-lived Collins label entitled Witness Volume 2 - The Music of William Grant Still is both powerful and moving. Likewise, the indefatigable Neeme Järvi and his Detroit orchestra produced for Chandos dynamic versions of his symphonic music. Hence, I was really looking forward to expanding my knowledge of this trail-blazing and important American composer.

I don’t think I have heard as dull a piece of symphonic writing as the Symphony No.5 ‘Western Hemisphere’ in a long time. It is in effect a 1970 major revision of the 1945 Symphony No.3. I have no way of knowing the extent of the revision so I can only assume that by 1970 Still, at 75 year old, found it harder to summon the vigour that so characterises his earlier music. This symphony is built on a 3-note short, short, long rising motif. This is treated in predictably uninspiring ways - inverted, expanded, contracted and ultimately builds to a somewhat cinematic climax. There is an appended programme to the whole work that is remarkable in its avowed goal - I’m not sure how to comment on it without sounding mean-spirited and negative. Enough to say, I did not feel the music successfully represents the aspirational intent. The second movement is the most successful of the work. A gently throbbing pedal chord sustained by a marimba over which languorous strings sing a simple song. It’s the kind of movement that could quite easily appear on a light classics disc with a title like Sunset in the Tropics. The scherzo third movement is again hampered by the repetitive use of small melodic/rhythmic cells. This results, just as it did in the opening movement is long passages of unvarying textures. The Finale is more interesting but pales beside any of the symphonic works of a Schuman, Harris or Diamond let alone a Copland, Bernstein or even Don Gillis at his most populist. Throughout this work I am disappointed by the orchestration - with the exception of the marimba moment mentioned above - Still’s handling of the orchestra is predictable and for 1970 downright reactionary.

David Ciucevich Jr.’s liner-notes tell us that Poem for Orchestra is “one of Still’s key works” without saying why! I find that kind of sweeping statement absolutely infuriating - it might well be central to his entire oeuvre but you must explain for what reason it deserves that status. It certainly has a bleaker more foreboding character than the Symphony. It is all too easy to assume any work written during wartime reflects the mood of the time. I do find this to be a wholly more impressive work although I could not escape the sense that there is something rather cinematic in the emotions it seems to convey. By that I mean that it creates a mood which is then sustained until a transition to a new “scene”. Also, there is a progression from a dark and menacing opening to a sunlit ‘happy ending’ that is rather corny to be honest - right down to Hollywood countermelodies on the horns over the strings richly harmonised hymn. I’m a sucker for this kind of writing but it does feel rather forced here.

The programme concludes with the longest work presented here - the Symphony No.4 ‘Autochthonous’. Hopefully I am not alone in not previously knowing that autochthonous means pertaining to indigenous flora/fauna/rocks of a country or continent. Apparently Still uses the title to refer to the spirit of the whole American people not just the original inhabitants. Again, I am naturally uneasy about any art that aspires to encompass enormous “ideas” within such limited frameworks - so when the fourth movement is subtitled “the warmth and the spiritual side of the American people - their love of mankind” I start to twitch. Clearly this is expressed as an ideal and an admirable one at that but regretfully I have to say I do not think Still has the compositional tools at his disposal to bring it off. The most successful movement for me is the most modest - the 3rd movement - with a graceful lilt. Again this could very easily be extracted as a separate character piece and certainly contains elements familiar from Still’s earlier works showing his knowledge of the Jazz and Broadway scenes. It has an easy swinging bluesy feel (and the orchestration is so much better than the Symphony No.5) and nonchalantly strolls along in a way that probably does capture more of the “American Spirit” than any other section of the work. The abovementioned finale very quickly descends into cinematic clichés of brave new worlds and happy ever afters that to be honest others have done better.

One of the unexpected beneficial by-products of the Naxos American Classics series has been the discovery that the USA has a lot of very good orchestras away from the big famous cities. The Fort Smith Symphony from Arkansas are good without being exceptional - characteristically confident brass playing but strings who sound under pressure during complex passages a little more than the best orchestras do. The various sections of the orchestra do not blend or speak with the total unanimity that one has come to expect - the very ending of the last track would have benefited from one more take. They play with gusto when required although no-where on this disc does the playing truly bloom. The recording is good without being one of Naxos’s finest. It sounds as though the resonance of the hall has made the engineers bring the microphones slightly closer than normal which results in the strange combination of a balance tight onto the instruments set in a halo of ambience.

As ever, it is wonderful that via Naxos one is able to hear unusual and specialised music such as this for so little money. I will be returning to the works of Still in the future just not as presented here.

Nick Barnard

see also review by Rob Barnett



 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools






Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.