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Still: La Guiablesse, Danzas Da Panama / Jackson, Still, Berlin Symphoniker


Release Date: 12/22/1993 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7154   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William Grant Still
Performer:  Alexa StillSusan DeWitt Smith
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 38 Mins. 

Special Order:  This CD requires additional production time and ships within 2-3 business days.  

This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was, by all accounts, the first black American to achieve some substantial recognition in the classical music field. (This judgment presumes that Nathaniel Dett has remained simply too obscure, and that Gottschalk presents a special case.)

Still received his training from Chadwick and Edgar Varese (of all people!) but there is little doubt that his innate ethnic heritage provided the backbone of his idiom and growth as a creative artist. From his earliest published pieces, Still proved himself to be a facile and gracious writer who worked instinctively as a melodist and whose style was fertilized, though not limited to, the tonalities and meters of his racial background. His essentially
Read more impressionist leanings were frequently inflected by a bluesy, syncopated accent derived from jazz or ragtime, but always voiced with a distinctively innocent and easygoing lyricism which bore little resemblance to the more commercially oriented “symphonic jazz“ (Gershwin et al.) that Paul Whiteman promoted (although Still wrote a few arrangements for dance bands). In fact, Still can meaningfully be seen as a younger member of the American “picturesque“ school, which included Griffes, Loeffler, Mason, John Powell, and Deems Taylor as well as the more populistically inclined figures Henry F. Gilbert and John Alden Carpenter, who both incorporated “jazzy“ turns in some of their symphonic scores.

Although the well-known Afro-American Symphony (recently recorded by Järvi on Chandos) is one of Still's most eloquent and representative pieces in this vein, there are also two other symphonies as well as a host of shorter orchestral works. In addition, there are a number of theatrical scores, such as several operas and the sumptuous and dramatic Sahdji ballet (once recorded by Hanson on Mercury) and the ballet offered here La Guiablesse {The She-Devil), from the early 1930's. This is the first complete recording of the revised version (in the 1980s there was briefly an LP on Glendale of excerpts from the original), which revolves about voodoolike legends from the Caribbean region. In spite of the libretto's strong folkloristic flavor, this opulent and vivid music often breaks out into Still's characteristically loping “Lenox Avenue“ two-beat strut, with insinuating horn commentary, that this listener has always found irresistible.

Also on this program is the popular Damas de Panama in—for the first time on records—its full strong-orchestra guise (there are earlier recordings of various chamber versions)—though one must point out that this work is not typical of Still's strongest and deepest lode—plus two brief encore pieces arranged by the composer for flute and piano.

While Jackson and his Berliners play this engaging music very smoothly and idiomatically, one simply cannot overlook the unconscionable brevity (37:43) of this CD. Outsiders cannot be privy to the behind-the-scenes problems arising in such a project, but surely with the cooperation of the Still family, it must have been possible for the producer to come up with at least one or two additional orchestral works to beef up this program and thereby justify its full-price category. Without the two sweet but slight flute pieces, we have barely half an hour (!) of music here (which would fit on an old 10-inch LP!) in a medium which can theoretically encompass seventy-five minutes without stretching. This simply will not do. Still wrote a wealth of never-recorded orchestral works of appropriate filler length, such as Dismal Swamp, In Old California, The Peaceful Land, Bells, Lenox Avenue Suite, In Memoriam, Folk Suite, Archaic Ritual, Woodnotes Suite, etc., etc. . . . Koch should consider making a generous adjustment: either the list price should come down or the CD should be withdrawn and reissued at a later date with more substance, giving previous purchasers the option of exchanging their original copies.

-- Paul A. Snook, FANFARE [7/1993] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
La guiablesse by William Grant Still
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens-Villa, Berlin 
Length: 18 Minutes 35 Secs. 
2.
Danzas da Panama by William Grant Still
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens-Villa, Berlin 
Length: 14 Minutes 0 Secs. 
3.
Quit Dat Fool'nish by William Grant Still
Performer:  Alexa Still (Flute), Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/1992 
Venue:  Wellington Symphony House, New Zealand 
Length: 1 Minutes 29 Secs. 
4.
Three Visions: no 2, Summerland by William Grant Still
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/1992 
Venue:  Wellington Symphony House, New Zealand 
Length: 3 Minutes 48 Secs. 

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