Fort Smith Symphony / John Jeter

William Grant Still: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5; Poem for Orchestra

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The three works on this disc, the Fourth and Fifth symphonies and Poem for Orchestra by American composer William Grant Still, are well-crafted and wholeheartedly sincere. Still manifestly means everything he says, and clearly knows how to say it, with strong conviction and complete confidence. His themes are vigorous or sprightly, his harmonies voluptuous or spiky, and his rhythms propulsive or sultry, while his developments are cogent and his forms never longer than they need to be. But nothing Still has to say is particularly inventive or interesting. His themes are too simple, his harmonies too conventional, his rhythms too foursquare, and his structures too textbook. One listens attentively at first, but as Still makes more moves that can be heard coming, and builds to more climaxes that can be predicted well before they arrive, one's attention wanders and finally fades. The Fort Smith Symphony and conductor John Jeter deliver well-crafted and wholeheartedly sincere accounts of Still's works. The Arkansas orchestra is up to the works' technical and emotional demands, and Jeter does all that can reasonably be expected of a conductor. But these qualities cannot transform the dross of Still's music into gold, and the results are dutiful but regrettably dull. Naxos' digital sound is clean enough, but hollow and somewhat two-dimensional.

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