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Video Music and Gamez, July 2009

“With humble thanks to God, the Source of Inspiration.” Such is the inscription to be found on the scores of the works of William Grant Still, sometimes called “The Dean of African-American Composers” and one of America’s most versatile musicians. African-American composer William Grant Still’s signature piece, Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” is the only one of his many works that has seldom needed a recording. As such, it is a natural fit for Still’s entry in the Naxos American Classics series.

However, Naxos has gone the extra mile for Still, including a key work never heard on record before, his symphonic poem Africa written between 1924 and 1930. Despite a widespread performance history gained in the wake of a successful 1931 launch by the redoubtable Howard Hanson and the Rochester Symphony, Africa was never published and ultimately withdrawn from circulation. It is hard to imagine why, as Africa is musically so very accomplished and attractive. It does spring from an idealized view of Africa common to African-Americans of the day, as expressed in the movement titles: “Land of Peace,” “Land of Romance,” and “Land of Superstition.” It wasn’t until Baptist missionaries traveled to Africa that the continent’s other sides became apparent—a land of unending inter-tribal warfare, starvation, and poverty. Given the program of this symphonic poem, which is close to being a symphony, Still’s music is appropriately lush, dreamy, and owes something to the work of Ferde Grofé. By comparison, the “Afro-American” is drawn from a more Dvořákian part of Still’s vocation.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, May 2008

Now here’s what I suggest to the intrepid folks in Fort Smith, who have every reason to be very proud of their achievement. Put together a series of Still programs over the next few years, and slowly make this a series. I have no doubt that it would be possible to attract the necessary sponsorship, nor do I doubt that Naxos would be happy to distribute the artistic results, and we’d naturally be pleased to review them. It would be a credit to the orchestra, the town, the state, the cause of promoting the music of one of this country’s foremost composers, and the cause of good music in general. So there you have it, a win-win situation, which you as music lovers can make even more attractive by dashing out and purchasing this very enjoyable recording.





Fanfare, July 2005

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Colin Anderson
Fanfare, June 2005

…the excellent booklet note for this Naxos release gives a detailed biography of Still, and one hopes the CD’s budget price is an inducement to sample these excellent scores…these performances from the Fort Smith Symphony are excellent, committed, and excellently prepared under John Jeter’s direction; he seems really under the music’s skin, which is demonstrated in comparison with Neeme Järvi’s Detroit Symphony recording for Chandos of the Symphony. The latter is perfectly fine; it’s simply that Jeter seems more alive to Still’s particular personality…this Naxos release is a winner, and is very well recorded.



Bob McQ
Tower.com, May 2005

Here’s some highly interesting, late romantic music by William Grant Still, who was one of America’s foremost, African-American composers. The three-part tone poem “Africa” and the symphony are the opening works of a triptych portraying the African-American experience. Both owe a great debt to The Blues. The former begins pastorally then becomes wistful and ends in more sinister dance-like fashion. The latter shows the influence of Franz Liszt and Antonin Dvořák, but there are ragtime and even jazz elements present, which give it a very appealing, almost Gershwinesque quality. In fact one of the melodies begins just like I’ve Got Rhythm, but Still wrote his first! Like “Africa” the heartfelt “In Memoriam” is a very welcome world premiere recording.



John Jeter
April 2005

“With humble thanks to God, the Source of Inspiration.” Such is the inscription to be found on the scores of the works of William Grant Still, sometimes called “The Dean of African-American Composers” and one of America’s most versatile musicians. African-American composer William Grant Still’s signature piece, Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” is the only one of his many works that has seldom needed a recording. As such, it is a natural fit for Still’s entry in the Naxos American Classics series.

However, Naxos has gone the extra mile for Still, including a key work never heard on record before, his symphonic poem Africa written between 1924 and 1930. Despite a widespread performance history gained in the wake of a successful 1931 launch by the redoubtable Howard Hanson and the Rochester Symphony, Africa was never published and ultimately withdrawn from circulation. It is hard to imagine why, as Africa is musically so very accomplished and attractive. It does spring from an idealized view of Africa common to African-Americans of the day, as expressed in the movement titles: “Land of Peace,” “Land of Romance,” and “Land of Superstition.” It wasn’t until Baptist missionaries traveled to Africa that the continent’s other sides became apparent—a land of unending inter-tribal warfare, starvation, and poverty. Given the program of this symphonic poem, which is close to being a symphony, Still’s music is appropriately lush, dreamy, and owes something to the work of Ferde Grofé. By comparison, the “Afro-American” is drawn from a more Dvořákian part of Still’s vocation.






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4:02:33 PM, 13 July 2014
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