Sunday, November 29, 2015 On his debut album for Navona Records, pianist Clipper Erickson performs an invaluable service in presenting this encompassing portrait

 R. Nathaniel Dett: MY CUP RUNNETH OVER
Navona Records NV 6013 (2015)

On October 21, 2015 AfriClassical posted:

Pianist Clipper Erickson alerts us to this review of his recording published by a music blog in Ontario, where the composer was born:

Textura, an online music blog in Ontario, published this review last week:

On his debut album for Navona Records, pianist Clipper Erickson performs an invaluable service in presenting this encompassing portrait of Robert Nathaniel Dett's music. Not only does the double-CD collection present the American composer's piano works in their entirety (approximately 150 minutes in total), it accentuates in doing so the distinctive manner by which Dett (1882-1943) fused African American folk and European classical idioms in his compositions. Other composers have famously integrated folk materials into their works, too—think of Dvorák and Copland, for example—but Dett's music stands apart from theirs in its incorporation of African American spirituals.

By way of background, Dett grew up in Niagara Falls, graduated in 1908 from Oberlin College with a double degree in piano and composition, and complemented honorary doctorates in music from Howard University and Oberlin with a Master's degree from the Eastman School of Music. He also was a writer and poet of some merit, The Emancipation of Negro Music having won him a literary prize at Harvard in 1920. For his part, Erickson studied at The Juilliard School, Yale University, and Indiana University and in 2014 received his Doctorate at Temple University for research done on Dett's piano music. Drawing on that study, Erickson contributed detailed liner notes to the recording that in providing historical context and informed analysis bolster the listener's appreciation of the music.

Enhancing the recording's appeal is the fact that, the three closing pieces excepting, the collection is sequenced chronologically, which enables the listener to trace Dett's artistic evolution from his 1912 Magnolia suite to Eight Bible Vignettes, created during the last two years of his life. The material reflects a remarkable range of interests on Dett's part, with some of it reminiscent in style and character of Liszt and Rachmaninoff and some deeply grounded in spirituals, gospel, and folk. It's not uncommon for a piece to be both formal and conservatory-like as well as melodically direct and unadorned in its presentation (see “Barcarolle-Morning” from In The Bottoms as one example of many), and while a piece such as Enchantment might be nineteen minutes long, it's comprised of four song-length parts that makes them and Dett's lyrical music in general all the more accessible. With thirty-seven separate tracks appearing on the release, the listener is presented with an uncommonly rich assortment.

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