Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Millbrook Independent: Stissing Center concert of "chamber works by William Grant Still" "was a thrilling opportunity to hear something new"

William Grant Still (1895-1978)

The Millbrook Independent

Magic Emanating from Stissing Center

Millbrook, New York

The Stissing Center—like many other music and theatre venues—has opened its doors via the Internet. The Saturday evening concert at 4:30 pm featured soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon with pianist Ryan MacEnvoy McCoullogh in a program of Clara Schumann, William Grant Still, and Adela Maddison. This husband-wife duo from Kingston, NY, recently released the album Descent/Return on the Albany Records label which features works by American composers John Harbison and James Primosch.

The middle section was all Ryan performing chamber works by William Grant Still (1895-1978), the first important African American composers and a friend of George Gershwin. I’m an avid fan of Still’s first symphony, yet have never heard his chamber music, so this was a thrilling opportunity to hear something new. Ryan began with “Cloud Cradles,” the first movement from Seven Traceries (1940), which explored the upper register as if it were a modern Nocturne, yet it delivered a decided American accent. The movement “Out of Silence” also began in the upper register yet moved to the melodic middle with poignant poetic reverie wherein the silence of the piano lingered as if producing a further note, an effect that appeared magical.

Moving to the earlier Three Visions (1936), a tripartite spiritual view was dramatized as in the traditional Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. “Dark Horsemen” offered a frightening Gothic gallop through dangerous woods, concluding with a thundering period demarcating death. “Summerland” evoked the landscape of patient hard work on a farm. “Radiant Pinnacle” described ascent with chord blocks of rising wave-sound where one reposes on a Petrarchan mountain top. Ryan delivered a river of meadow-like lyricism.

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