No one puts together compilations as well as Cedille, really. There must be a million discs devoted to music by miscellaneous women composers, and I honestly couldn’t care less. I want good music, period, and the sex of the composer is completely irrelevant. So although “Project W” bills itself as a showcase for five females, it’s the music itself that provides the main attraction, completely and utterly, and that’s as it should be. So let’s get to it:
1. First up, Florence Price’s (1887-1953) Dances in the Canebrakes, a late piano piece colorfully orchestrated by William Grant Still. As the USA’s first important African-American female composer, Price has been getting a good bit of attention lately. Her music sounds very much like Still’s–the romantic nationalist school of American music, a mixture of popular idioms, jazz, and European influences in the style of Joplin, Gershwin, Don Gillis and that school. In short: delightful.
2. Clarice Assad: Sin Fronteras. After an atmospheric introduction, the music becomes an eclectic dance piece with an overall Latin-American vibe. Quite catchy.
3. Jessie Montgomery: Coincident Dances. Another dance number, this time with an even wider range of reference than Sin Fronteras, especially colorfully scored for a wide range of percussion instruments.
4. Reena Esmail: #metoo. The title is unfortunate–trendy and maybe a bit facile–but the music is another matter. Esmail takes an Indian tune, Charukeshi Bandish, which she sings for us quite beautifully as a bonus, and pits it against a series of orchestral “setbacks”. The intent is quite clear, especially when the melody blossoms forth at the end, only to run into an uncertain conclusion.
5. Jennifer Higdon is the best-known of the five featured composers. Dance Card is a suite for string orchestra in five nicely contrasted movements. The fourth of them, Celestial Blue, is perhaps the most evocative–an extremely affecting mix of consonance and dissonance supported by diaphanous textures.
The Chicago Sinfonietta, which is 47 percent female, we’re told, plays superbly under Mei-Ann Chen, and the engineering is up to the high standards of the house. This is music well worth getting to know, and more importantly, worthy of repetition, and hence well worth collecting.