Gregory Walker / Ian Hobson / Sinfonia Varsovia

George Walker: Great American Orchestral Music, Vol. 2

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George Walker, more often than not referred to as the dean of African-American composers, is increasingly noteworthy in another sphere, as well; all the music on this release was first performed after he turned 70, and the most recent work, the quite ambitious Concerto for violin and orchestra, was first performed in December 2009, when he was 87. Kudos to the Albany label, by the way, for having this recording in circulation by March 2010; it's timely and exciting. The violin part of the concerto is played by the composer's son, Gregory Walker, on a fine 1718 Stradivarius instrument, and it's a dense, gnarly essay in which the violin seems by sheer virtuoso force to wrench itself free from close, dissonant orchestral textures. All of the music on the album has a serious but somehow ceremonial quality, with vigorous brass writing handled well by Poland's Sinfonia Varsovia under conductor Ian Hobson. Perhaps the piece of most interest here for general symphonic orchestra is the 10-minute Foils for orchestra, subtitled "Homage à Saint George." The work stands up to its triple referents: swordplay, the story of St. George, and the dragon, and Walker's illustrious predecessor among composers of African descent, the Guadeloupean-French violinist Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a noted fencer himself. The final Pageant and Proclamation, written for the 1997 opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, demonstrates Walker's approach to the use of distinctively African-American content: he quotes "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "We Shall Overcome" rather than inflecting his basic idiom in the direction of African content. The notes, copyrighted 2009, are by Walker himself, who is delightfully photographed on the cover holding a big red rose. Recommended, especially for those interested in the phenomenon of late-life creativity.

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