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American Originals: A New World, A New Canon
Reginald L. Mobley (countertenor), Agave
rec. 22-26 September 2021, First Congregational Church, Fresno, USA ACIS APL20445 [66:08]
The cover story in the latest issue of the Japanese classical music magazine Record geijutsu (Art of Records) invited readers to explore North and South America by way of the music of its “seven great pioneers.” Lined up against a large silhouette of the combined American continent were the very aforementioned seven—of which only two were from anywhere south of the Rio Grande (and none from Canada, despite its estimable classical music history). The “classical music continent of America,” it turns out, is mostly contained within the New York City tri-state area.
Even as we progress further into the third decade of the 21st century, the misperception that Western classical music is not a global phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of race and nation, but one restricted to certain peoples and areas remains stubbornly pervasive. American Originals, the latest album from African-American countertenor Reginald L. Mobley, gently challenges those notions. In this attractive program of 17 songs and instrumental works, composers from colonial-era Latin America alternate with African-American composers from the 19th and 20th centuries. Of the latter, Florence Beatrice Price, whose music has attracted much interest since its belated posthumous discovery, is the most represented. The way her sweet and unpretentious melodies are threaded into this program imbue the whole with a warming and homespun quality akin to a recital of rarefied parlor song. Essential in conveying this unifying impression is Mobley’s voice. Agile, plump in tone, even, and stylistically alert, he flows as if in a single breath from the high Baroque joyfulness of Manuel de Zemaya, the most important composer colonial Mexico produced, to the spiritual-tinged lyricism of Price. Joining him are members of the Northern California Baroque music ensemble Agave, who provide sensitive and spirited accompaniment, as well as an enlivening touch of eclectic color to their arrangements that never overwhelm the music.
The recording, produced by Geoffrey Silver and engineered by Aaron Westman, imparts appropriate intimacy and glow for this music. Mobley’s liner notes, briefly detailing the backgrounds of each work and composer, are very fine. Texts for all vocal works are included, save for the final Price song, which sets words by Langston Hughes
This lovely Acis CD is a welcome invitation to listeners in the know and those who ought to know better alike to re-examine outdated notions about classical music, its accessibility, and reception. With grace and wit, Mobley and Agave demonstrate that classical music is a universal lingua franca that, to paraphrase Beethoven, comes from the heart and returns to it.
Florence Beatrice PRICE (1887–1953) Resignation [2:19] Esteban SALAS y Castro (1725–1803) T˙, mi Dios, entre pajas [6:04] Anon. (from Cusco Archive, Peru) Song for Two Instruments [2:34] Florence Beatrice PRICE Out of the South Blew a Wind [1:49] Esteban SALAS y Castro Taedet animan meam [5:21] Florence Beatrice PRICE Sympathy [2:55] Scott JOPLIN (1867–1917) Bethena (A Concert Waltz) [6:48] Florence Beatrice PRICE Tobacco [:50] Anon. (from Chiquitos Archive, Bolivia)
Trio Sonata in F [7:51] Florence Beatrice PRICE The White Rose [1:29] Manuel de Zumaya (ca. 1678–1755) Como aunque culpa [3:24] Anon. (arr. Florence Beatrice PRICE) Shortnin’ Bread [1:24] JosÚ MaurÝcio NUNES GARCIA (1767–1830) Te, Christe, solum novimus [7:25] Anon. (arr. Florence Beatrice PRICE) Oh My Darling, Clementine [2:45] Justin HOLLAND (1819–1887) Sweet Memories of Thee [5:27] William Marshall HUTCHISON (1854–1933) (arr. Justin HOLLAND) Dream Faces [5:25] Florence Beatrice PRICE Songs to the Dark Virgin [2:13]
Aaron Westman (violin, viola), Anne Washburn (violin), Katherine Kyme (violin), William Skeen (cello), Kevin Cooper (guitar), Henry Lebedinsky (organ, piano)