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Xavier Dubois FOLEY (b. 1994)
Shelter Island [5:14]
Coleridge-Taylor PERKINSON (1932-2004)
Blue/s Forms for solo violin (1979) [8:02]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1927)
Porgy and Bess Selection (arr. Jascha Heifetz) [10:07]
William Grant STILL (1895-1978)
Suite for Violin and Piano (1943) [14:17]
Florence PRICE (1887-1953)
Adoration [3:38]
Fantasie No 1 in G minor [4:44]
Fantasy No 2 in F-sharp minor [5:28]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Deep River, Op 59 No 10 (1905) [4:33]
Antonín DVORAK (1841-1904)
Sonatina, Op 100 (1893) [19:36]
Randall Goosby (violin)
Zhu Wang (piano)
Xavier Dubois Foley (double bass)
rec. 2020/21, Mary Flagler Cary Hall, The DiMenna Center, New York City
DECCA 485 1664 [75:38]

Randall Goosby is the new violin sensation coming out of the USA. At least, that is what Decca believe, having signed him as an exclusive artist last year when he was just 24. He certainly comes with an impressive back-story. A protégé of Itzhak Perlmann and (still) a student at Juilliard, youngest-ever winner of the Sphinx Concerto Competition winner, the first Young Classical Artists Trust Robey artist, with recitals at both Carnegie and Wigmore Halls under his belt, he made his solo debut with the Jacksonville Symphony at the age of nine, and four years later appeared with the New York Phil. The proof of the pudding, however, is very much in the eating; and with this, his debut disc, he more than amply repays the great faith Decca obviously have in him. This is a lovely exhibition of sensitive, eloquent, and disarmingly affectionate violin playing with just enough virtuosity to tickle the fancies of those who like that kind of thing but shot through with an open-hearted musicianship and a luxuriance of tone which marks him out as something very special.

The programme he has chosen reflects not just his American roots – he was born in Tennessee to an African-American father and a Korean mother – but his passion for racial equality. Clearly he has been strongly affected in his outlook by the Black Lives Matter movement, even if this CD focuses more on diversity than a simple racial issue, but that said, three of the composers represented are black. The first of these is Xavier Dubois Foley, who joins Goosby as bass player in his Shelter Island, a folksy, bluesy conversation between the two instruments which is hugely enjoyable at the start but possibly overstretches its musical content and gives off the impression of being merely a run through of jazz-infused gestures. The two players have a fabulous musical relationship, and the sense of a free-flowing jazz dialogue compensates for the thinness of the invention.

Named after the black British composer, whose own touching setting of the Negro Spiritual, Deep River, finds Goosby in particularly eloquent form and breaking out into glorious virtuoso flourishes for a brief central episode, the American-born Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson is represented by a three-movement exploration of Blue/s Forms. The roots of this lie jointly in the solo violin writing of Bach and the blues, but the language is very much its own, and in Goosby, it has a fluent and compelling advocate, his sense of timing and space, the richness of his tone, and his use of fluid double-stopping, is beautifully managed.

In her 50s Florence Price had written to Serge Koussevitzky hoping to find an outlet for her music, pointing out to him that “I have two handicaps—those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins”. Koussevitzky obviously found those two aspects of her sufficiently objectionable not to look any further, and it was not until half a century after her death that her music began to be appreciated; she is said to be the first American woman composer of symphonic music, with four symphonies (although one was left incomplete) and a couple of violin concertos to her name. Goosby promotes her work further with three short pieces, recorded here, it would seem, for the first time. With his pianist partner, Zhu Wang, Goosby offers up a deliciously tender account of Adoration, while the first of the two Fantasies (curiously with different title spellings) is much in the style of a Kreisler showpiece, and is performed here with just the right amount of dramatic posturing and virtuoso display. The second opens in a more introspective mood, with a theme clearly influenced by a spiritual, but with frequent outbursts of virtuoso display. Goosby and Wang get really under the surface of this, and produce a sultry, exotic performance in which virtuoso display never seems to dominate and provide a powerful argument to other violinists that these are worthwhile additions to the repertory, irrespective of ethnicity or gender.

I have seen William Grant Still described as the “Dean of Afro-American composers”, and while this might seem a pretty meaningless epithet, he is certainly a major figure in the early development of American symphonic development irrespective of his ethnicity. Most readers will know of him through his five symphonies (recorded by Naxos in their “American Classics” series), but he is represented here by his Suite for violin and piano, each of the movements inspired by three different sculptures by artists associated with the so-called Harlem Renaissance. The first, inspired by Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer evokes the urgent swirling, writhing movement of the dancer as sculpted by Barthé, Wang providing a powerfully rhythmic momentum to Goosby’s fizzingly athletic playing. The second conveys the dreamy, pensive mood of Sargent Johnson’s Mother and Child, not one specific sculpture, but a whole series he created in the 1920s and 30s. There is something of a gently rocking character in the rich, comforting chords from the piano above which Goosby provides an almost caressing melodic flow. The final movement was prompted by Augusta Savage’s Gamin, a closely detailed sculpture of the head of a young boy, the hardship of life in the city slums etched into his face. Still’s response was a jazz-inspired, jaunty piece, the violin skipping perkily along above a complex piano background. A performance full of verve and vitality.

The remainder of the programme celebrates American diversity, with Jascha Heifetz’s rather rudely cobbled together set of choice themes from Porgy and Bess given a suitably flamboyant performance, and Dvořák’s Sonatina played with a real sense of insight and understanding. The way in which Goosby shapes and moulds the phrases, uses his tone to create a quasi-vocal line, and generally uses every skill in his armoury to the service of the music (including quite a bit of audible breathing), is ample justification of Decca’s faith in this young artist.

Marc Rochester

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