William Grant Still: Symphonies No 4 & 5, Etc / John Jeter, Et Al
William Grant Still
Fort Smith Symphony
Number of Discs:
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
William Grant Still's Fourth and Fifth symphonies are saddled with bombastic and ridiculous titles that have little or nothing to do with the musical reality of what you will actually hear on listening to them, so I choose to ignore them. In truth, Still wasn't a particularly adept symphonist in the traditional sense--in qualities such as rigorous development and economical exploitation of thematic material. He was a melodist, and a very good one. The slow movements (and scherzos) of both symphonies are extremely beautiful, graceful, elegant, and sincere. In quicker music he tends to become repetitious; but as if understanding his real strengths, he fills both works with lovely, lyrical tunes at slow to moderate tempos. This makes the
quicker music an effective contrast, but as I said, it's not terribly symphonic. No matter; this is very enjoyable stuff, sort of a cross between George Gershwin and Howard Hanson (well, probably better than the latter for the most part).
The Poem for Orchestra may be the best piece on the disc, and not because it's less ambitious. In fact, at 10 minutes it lasts longer than any single movement in either symphony, but its contrasting episodes are very effectively structured into a cohesive whole. The Fort Smith (Arkansas) Symphony, not quite a full-time group when last I checked, plays this not-terribly-difficult music warmly and accurately. Of course, I could imagine a bit more snap to the rhythm, a touch more heft at the climaxes, but conductor John Jeter ensures that nothing gets in the way of the listener's enjoyment, and these works are so attractive and audience-friendly that there's no reason to quibble. Definitely worth a listen if you collect 20th-century American music.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Poem for Orchestra by William Grant Still
Fort Smith Symphony
Period: 20th Century
Length: 10 Minutes 28 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Excellent, gentle American symphonic works September 25, 2012
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"If you are unfamiliar with the work of American composer William Grant Still, you owe it to yourself to try this very fine disk. Naxos has now issued all of his 5 symphonies, and this recording may be superior to the two disks containing the others. To summarize, Symphonies 4 and 5 are conservative, never straying into the 'badlands' of dissonance or atonality. What you get are compositions full of joy and optimism, clearly emerging from his focus on melody, melody, melody. It is impossible for me to imagine anyone struggling with this material while listening to it. The same applies to the filler piece, titled Poem for Orchestra. Finally, in the event that a potential listener might be wary of a relatively unknown orchestra from Arkansas, any such reservations can be put to rest at once. The Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra may not have the resources of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but they play this material with passion and dedication, and even the CSO would probably have a hard time surpassing the FSSO in terms of excitement or authenticity. The sound quality is never in doubt, either, so go ahead and take the plunge. This recording is a real pleasure to hear!"