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William Grant Still’s musical life was possibly richer and more varied than any other American composer. He learned the value of his ethnic heritage as a child and later became involved in the intricacies of jazz and blues as well as show music. He was gifted with a great talent for melody, a gift well evidenced by the variety of work contained on this CD.
Lenox Avenue, for narrator, orchestra, and singers, is perhaps the most remarkable of Still’s works since it brought together so many of the elements that characterized his output. Originally commissioned by CBS Radio in 1937, it was transformed into a stage work the following year and given its premiere by the Dance Theatre of Los Angeles. Lenox Avenue is pure Americana and a piece that had great influence. The performance on this disc is from 1938 with the CBS Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Barlow, with narration by the wonderful actor Juano Hernandez. Also, included is the very rare orchestral version without narration, and it is equally wonderful. That performance is conducted by William Grant Still himself.
Among the most important associations in the career of William Grant Still was his long friendship with the renowned American violinist, Louis Kaufman. Featured on this CD are several pieces commissioned and specifically written for Kaufman, including the wonderful Suite for Violin and Orchestra.
Portions of this album were first released in 1991 on the Bay Cities label. The broadcast of Lenox Avenue was taken from acetates and at that time as much as could be done to clean up the sound was done, which, unhappily, wasn’t really much. However, here it is, 2018, and we’re blessed with Chris Malone, who has done wonders with both the original version of Lenox Avenue, as well as the broadcast version from 1937 of the orchestral version. Both now sound as good as they’re ever going to.
William Grant Still was an American original and a truly important figure in American music.
1. Lenox Avenue
The CBS Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Barlow (1938)
Narration spoken by Juano Hernandez
Text by Verna Arvey
2. Lenox Avenue (Symphonic Version without Narrator)
The Los Angeles WPA Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Grant Still (1937)
5. Here’s One
Louis Kaufman, violin Annette Kaufman, piano
Two Panamanian Dances
7. Majorana y Socavon
8. Cumbia y Congo
Louis Kaufman, violin; George Berres, violin; Alexander Neiman, viola; Terry King, cello
9. Suite for Violin and Orchestra
The Standard Hour Symphony Orchestra conducted by Henry Svedrofsky (1948)
Louis Kaufman, violin