Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boston Chamber Music Society Performs William Grant Still's 'Suite' for violin and piano

[Africa: Piano Music of William Grant Still; Denver Oldham, piano; Koch 3 7084 2H1 (1991)]

The Boston Musical Intelligencer
in: Reviews
January 25, 2010
“Time After Time After Time: BCMS Wraps Winter Series at MIT

By Vance R. Koven

To pick up where we and they left off last week, the Boston Chamber Music Society concluded its three-week winter festival and residency at MIT with a program pursuing the festival’s theme of Musical Time at Kresge Auditorium on January 23. This last installment, with works by Mozart, Loeffler, Still and Foss, was more varied in style and timbre than last week’s all-strings affair, featuring two works—the Mozart Quartet and the Loeffler Two Rhapsodies—with oboe, and one—Foss’s seminal Time Cycle—for a mixed ensemble with a wide battery of percussion.”

William Grant Still was far from the first African-American composer to achieve recognition, but except for Duke Ellington he is probably now the best remembered. His
Suite for violin and piano, from 1943, attempts to interpret in musical time what the eye can take in all at once from three sculptures by African-American artists. On this occasion, the projected images of these works served an eminently sensible purpose. The first, of a figure frozen in the midst of dance, allowed Still to uncoil over time the intense energy only implicit in the static form. His result was propulsive, jazzy, modal, and once again pentatonic, an abstraction of dance rather than its representation. The second, a mother and child sculpted in a fairly stylized and abstract way, yielded music contrastingly more concrete in affect, with a gorgeous tune full of plagal cadences that could easily do duty as a popular song or, ironically, an aria somehow omitted from Porgy and Bess. The third is a stunning bust of a young man, cloth cap slightly askew, with the knowing half-smile that bespeaks urban cool. His face bears, to this viewer, a close resemblance to the young Nat King Cole, and Still’s musical portrait conveys the type of easy, knowing grace of Cole’s early piano playing. The pictures in this exhibition were admirably conveyed by Rhodes and Lee, perfectly capturing each mood.” [William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is found.]

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