courtesy of Naxos of America
Yesterday this site discussed the forthcoming Naxos release of string quartet music from the eighteenth century by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a prodigious polymath of mixed-race parentage. At the end of this week Naxos will also be releasing an album that surveys orchestral music by William Grant Still, known as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers.” Ironically, Google has been even less cooperative in finding Web pages about this new release than it was when I wrote yesterday’s article. After several different search strategies, the only site I found that is taking pre-orders of the Naxos Still album is CeDe.ch, which calls itself “Switzerland’s largest multimedia shop.” They have created a Web page that accounts only for an audio CD, giving a price in Swiss francs; and, yes, they are processing advance orders!
Ironically, all of the performances on this album are by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Avlana Eisenberg. Six of the tracks include solo violin performances by Zina Schiff. Those familiar with the recent work of violinist Randall Goosby, both on his Roots album and the recital he gave last month at Davies Symphony Hall, know that his repertoire includes a three-movement suite for violin and piano that Still composed in 1943. Three of the tracks on the new Naxos album provide the version of that suite for violin and orchestra. Sadly, the booklet notes say nothing about when the orchestral version was composed. On the basis of the “Selected compositions” section found on Still’s Wikipedia page, I would conjecture that the suite was originally composed as chamber music; but I have not yet found a viable clue about the origins of the orchestral version.
I have to say that I admire the good intentions of both Eisenberg and Schiff. Both of them clearly appreciate Still’s repertoire, and all thirteen of the tracks present convincing accounts of the music. However, those wishing to learn more about that music will probably be frustrated. Notes are provided in the booklet on a track-by-track basis; but the content is, at best, variable. Ironically, the longest paragraph is about the violin suite. However, it says next to nothing about the music itself or its relationship to the chamber music version.
Personally, I feel as if my efforts to “listen beneath the surface structure” have been thwarted by the production values behind this new release. Having listened to him both on recording and in recital, I have to say that I find Goosby a more “reliable source,” even if his Still repertoire is currently somewhat modest. As the song goes, I am willing to wait “Until the Real Thing Comes Along.”