Pianist Elizabeth Newkirk has come up with a wonderful idea in juxtaposing piano arrangements of three large-scale interwar orchestral pieces. The three substantial movements making up William Grant Still’s Africa Suite often evoke the harmonic language of Delius, Ireland, and Scott, along with the melodic syncopation typifying traditional spirituals. Newkirk’s sensitivity and coloristic bent suits the sensuous nature of Still’s more lyrical writing.
Sometimes her cadential ritards and internal rubatos undermine the rhythmic energy and fast-walking character of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, yet somehow Ravel’s La Valse better absorbs Newkirk’s volatile gearshifts, such as those sudden crescendos and climactic build-ups that take the listener aboard a musical roller-coaster.
In addition, Newkirk provides an extensive and philosophically provocative booklet essay that readers will either find fascinating or convoluted. However, the whole production is undermined by a dry, drab, and muffled sonic ambience that one might expect from a poor-sounding early 1950s mono release.