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Naxos’s American Classics series has become an indispensable source for contemporary and heritage music. Paul Moravec made a splash with his operatic version of Stephen King’s The Shining, but now turns to oratorio with a vivid setting of the 19th-century abolitionist William Still’s The Underground Railroad. Not a horror story in the usual sense this time, but the tale of how African-American slaves and runaways were passed from hand to hand towards some semblance of freedom. The libretto, by Mark Campbell, is sometimes a little prosaic, but the principals lift their lines and the chorus builds steadily to the climactic call: ‘Shout from every rooftop / Loud as can be / Free’. Nobody overdoes or pastiches the elements of spiritual or blues, but there are moments when the music resembles Duke Ellington’s at its most expansive – which is intended as a compliment.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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