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Margaret Bonds Cantatas

Avie Records 2023

Margaret Bonds: Credo & Simon Bore the Cross—Janinah Burnett, soprano; Dashon Burton, baritone; The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra/Malcolm J. Merriweather (Avie 2589)
Janinah Burnett, soprano; Dashon Burton, baritone; The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra/Malcolm J. Merriweather (Avie 2589)
New York City’s Dessoff Choirs and conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather follow up their 2019 release of Margaret Bonds’ Ballad of the Brown King with world-premiere recordings two more of her cantatas. Credo is set to a 1904 prose poem by W. E. B. Du Bois and Simon Bore the Cross was a project of Bonds and her close friend and collaborator, poet and playwright Langston Hughes. Solos are sung by soprano Janinah Burnett and bass-baritone Dashon Burton, who is a frequent Cleveland Orchestra guest in Severance Hall. Bonds did not live to hear either of these works performed in their entirety. The first complete performance of Credo was given the year after her death, to favorable reviews. The Los Angeles Times wrote that it “…verified her talent, her sensitivity, her proficiency as orchestrator and her concern for the Negro spiritual.” The text begins on familiar ground with I Believe in God, before giving expression to racial uplift in Especially Do I Believe in the Negro Race and then I Believe in Pride of Race. The last of seven Credo statements begins with an emphatic “Finally, finally, finally, I believe in patience.” Simon Bore the Cross centers on Simon of Cyrene from North Africa, who carried Jesus’ cross on the way to Calvary. By establishing Simon as a key character in the passion narrative, Bonds and Hughes gave African American audiences the opportunity to see themselves within the biblical canon. Hughes commenced work on the text in 1962. Bonds began setting it to music the following year and completed a piano-vocal score in 1965. Despite plans for both the publication and premiere of the work, neither was achieved before the composer died in 1972, at age 59. Both Credo and Simon Bore the Cross are powerful listening experiences for listeners of all races.