The Ballad of the Brown King*; To a Brown Girl Dead; Winter Moon; Three Dream Portraits
*Laquita Mitchell (soprano), *Lucia Bradford (mezzo-soprano), Noah Stewart (tenor), Ashley Jackson (harp); The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra/Malcolm J Merriweather (baritone)
Avie AV2413 35:16 mins
When African-American composer Margaret Bonds studied at Northwestern University, the institution didn’t provide accommodation for black students or allow black women in its swimming pool. Most of Bonds’s works remain unpublished, so this release is a small step in the right direction. The main work is The Ballad of the Brown King, a Christmas cantata lasting 25 minutes to a text by Langston Hughes. Although it dates from 1954, this is the piece’s premiere recording. It is a very good one. The Ballad opens in pastoral mode, with hints of Vaughan Williams or Delius in the lissome string writing. The choral contributions draw palpably on the style of spirituals, without seeming derivative, and are affectionately shaped by conductor Malcolm J Merriweather. Expressive solo singing from tenor Noah Stewart and mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford further enhances the warmly communicative qualities of the performance.
A clutch of songs by Bonds, all darker in tone and content, fills the brief running time of the disc out a little. They pique curiosity to hear more of this composer’s neglected music.