Search - Duke Ellington, William Grant Still, Neeme Järvi :: Still: Symphony No. 1; Ellington: Suite from "The River"

Still: Symphony No. 1; Ellington: Suite from "The River"
Duke Ellington, William Grant Still, Neeme Järvi
Still: Symphony No. 1; Ellington: Suite from "The River"
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1

William Grant Still composed a large body of excellent music that deserves the widest possible circulation. He merged his mastery of the jazz vernacular with classical forms learned at Wilberforce and Oberlin. Even while s...  more »

     
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William Grant Still composed a large body of excellent music that deserves the widest possible circulation. He merged his mastery of the jazz vernacular with classical forms learned at Wilberforce and Oberlin. Even while studying later with an iconoclast like Edgar Varese, Still sought to extend the historical focus of the Harlem Renaissance into his compositions, injecting the "Afro-American" symphony especially with folk-inspired touches of impressionism and neo-Romanticism. The work seeks a broad sweep and bears resemblances to Gershwin and Ellington in the mix of pop and swing elements into the symphonic language. The coupling is a fitting one, in part because Ellington struggled for years to create a large-scale work that could indeed be considered rightfully "orchestral" outside his own big band's works. The Suite from the River is an ideal revelation, taking Ellington's sectionally orchestral thinking (where the orchestra was a conglomerate of different sections playing off each other) to levels that reach Still's well-schooled use of the symphony orchestra as a vehicle. Neeme Järvi does a fine job leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in rendering these two unlikely but deserving works. --Andrew Bartlett

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CD Reviews

Symphonic blues
aburns57 | Colorado Spring, CO United States | 06/13/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Still worked with W.C. Handy ("the father of the blues") and played the oboe in the original run of Shuffle Along; he also studied with George Whitefield Chadwick and Edgar Varese (!). So when he sat down to write a symphony, it's not surprising that the result brings together vernacular African-American idioms with a sophisticated handling of large-scale European forms.The verve and winning appeal of his Afro-American Symphony will inevitably remind one of Gershwin's slightly earlier triumphs--but Still's voice is very much his own. Throughout the symphony, the music soars and swings; the whole work is full of vitality and warmth. It has been a great pleasure to get to know this music better.Still may be regarded as "the dean of African-American composers", but his work is badly in need of being championed. Kudos, then, to Neeme Jarvi for making such a spectacular recording of a work that almost certainly belongs in the permanent canon of great American music.The choice of coupling the symphony with Ellington's The River is interesting but in some ways not fully satisfying. Don't get me wrong: Ellington's music is great in it own right, but an orchestral transcription like this one (rather than a jazz band performance) inevitably ends up seeming like something of a curiosity. Personally, I'd prefer to have gotten another work by Still.Jarvi *has* gone on to record Still's Second. Wouldn't it be outstanding if he completed the whole cycle? (but the order is a bit challenging, since Still withdrew two symphonies and wrote a "replacement" Third after he had finished his Fourth . . . )Bottom line: good stuff and an important service to American music."
African-American Composers In The Spotlight
Erik North | San Gabriel, CA USA | 07/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Two great African-American composers of the 20th century--William Grant Still (1895-1978) and the legendary "Sir" Duke Ellington (1899-1974)--have one work each spotlighted on this fine Chandos recording.Still's "Afro-American" symphony--the Symphony No. 1--has the distinction of being perhaps the first symphony by an African-American ever to be performed by a major symphony orchestra (composer and conductor Howard Hanson led the work's world premiere in 1931 with the Rochester Philharmonic). It is a work that is very much a part of the composer's background, with its roots in jazz and the blues, and is every bit as American as the great works of Copland and Gershwin, though its symphonic structure is also very much along the lines of Brahms and Beethoven.Duke Ellington, meanwhile, gets onto this recording via his 1970 ballet music for "The River", which was commissioned by Alvin Ailey's dance company. Though known as one of the premiere American jazz geniuses of all times, Ellington could also compose for symphonic orchestra (his total number of works is at least 2,000); and this work, which depicts the natural course of a river, is a wonderful and energetic piece.Both Still's and Ellington's works are not all that well known, but are given first rate performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Jarvi. As they had done with the music of French composers under Paul Paray in the 1950s/early 1960s, and with 20th century music from composers like Copland and Richard Strauss under Antal Dorati in the late 70s/early 80s, the orchestra during Jarvi's tenure has been a strong advocate of African-American composers and their works, and this is a prime example of that. Well worth looking for and listening to."
Where's the rest??
Donna | East Berne, New York USA | 01/17/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Thoroughly enjoyed my first introduction to William Grant Still's music. But the main reason I purchased this CD was for Ellington's Suite, "The River" -- and I was disappointed. While what is here is wonderful (and hardly ever recorded) - the liner notes say that there are several more parts of the suite which were not included.The first couple of times I heard "The River" it was being played live on PBS. I fell in love with it instantly, hearing not only Ellington's signatures but those of Gershwin, whom I adore.If someone can point me to a complete recording of "The River" I would be eternally grateful!!"