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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Piano Quintet in G minor Op.1 (1893) [26:23]
Ballade in C minor for violin and piano Op.73 (1907) [13:00]
Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor Op.10 (1896) [29:56]
Nash Ensemble (Richard Hosford (clarinet); Ian Brown (piano); Marianne Thorsen (violin); Malin Broman (violin) (Piano Quintet); Benjamin Nabarro (violin) (Clarinet Quintet); Lawrence Power (viola); Paul Watkins (cello)).
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 26-28 January 2007.
HYPERION CDA67590 [69:20]



My first introduction to the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was one of the Dream Dances for piano. For many years this was the only work I had heard. I recall my father talking favourably about a pre-war performance of Hiawatha which he and his father and brother had attended. I later discovered the ‘light’ Petite Suite and some more piano pieces. However it was not until I heard the relatively recent recordings of the Violin Concerto and the Symphony in A minor that I sat up and took notice. 
 
The present release simply confirms what I have come to believe – that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor may not be the brightest star in the firmament of British Music  - but ‘by gum’ he is seriously underrated and well deserves to be better known and represented in the concert hall and the recording industry.
 
There are three works given here: one is quite a late piece, written just a few years before Coleridge-Taylor’s untimely death. The other two are effectively student works. All three are minor masterpieces – at least to this listener.
 
The sleeve-notes explain that the Piano Quintet in G minor received its first performance in Croydon on 9 October 1893. It was a concert that consisted entirely of works by Coleridge-Taylor.  Lionel Harrison notes that the piece was probably not heard again for more than a century.
 
The influences here are Brahms, Dvořák and Schubert, yet elements of Coleridge-Taylor’s mature style are already evident. This is a big-boned work that is full of romantic gestures and passionate outbursts. The Editor has written that this Quintet is a ‘real discovery’ (in relation to an earlier recording - see review) and he compares it with the Ireland Sextet and the Stanford Serenade. In Mr Barnett’s opinion this present work ‘towers in this company.’
 
The Quintet is written in four movements with the slow movement coming second in order. A turbulent ‘allegro’ is followed by the deep and measured ‘larghetto’ which explores a wide range of emotion. The ‘Scherzo’ is a driving piece full of energy. It is here that I feel the individual voice of the composer is best heard. The last movement could be described as eerie, dark and unsettling: indeed, there are a few places where this penumbra is drawn aside, but typically this music is disturbing.
 
The critical thing is that this multi-faceted work is the creation of an eighteen year old student: seen in this light it is an absolute masterpiece.
 
The Clarinet Quintet in F# minor has an unusual history. Apparently Charles Villiers Stanford commented that ‘after Brahms produced his Clarinet Quintet, no one would be able to compose another that did not show Brahms’s influence.’  The young Coleridge-Taylor took this as a personal challenge and wrote the present number. Stanford is reputed to have said, on perusing the score, “You’ve done it, me bhoy.’ However, what is not owed to the German is most probably due to Dvořák. Yet this is not a pastiche – there are elements of melody and design that defy classification and belong solely to the creative mind of this composer.
 
Interestingly, I detect a few passages that would seem be imbued with an ‘Englishness’ more often associated with the so called ‘Pastoral’ school of composition. This is altogether the most important work of Coleridge-Taylor’s student days.
 
The latest work on this disc is the Ballade in C minor for violin and piano. It was composed in 1907 and dedicated to the Russian-born violinist Michael Zacherewitsch.  The title of Ballade was in the air at this time with works by Grieg and Debussy for violin and piano being possible exemplars; however the tone of Coleridge-Taylor’s work nods more to Tchaikovsky.  This is a great work that is full of melancholy and passion. Yet it is not without its less dark moments – with the work finally ending in C major. The virtuosity of the solo part is never in doubt.
 
This Hyperion CD cannot be faulted and it seems almost redundant to state the obvious fact that the performance by the Nash Ensemble is fine indeed. The programme notes would be better defined as an essay - it tells me everything I need to know about these three (to me) unknown works. And what more can one ask? I am not convinced by the rather chintzy sleeve design however it is based on an original painting, The Rose Garden by Robert Atkinson (1863-1896)
 
The bottom line is that this is an excellent recording of some stunning repertoire that is little known – even amongst enthusiasts of British music. Let us hope that there is plenty more by Coleridge-Taylor in the ‘in-boxes’ of the record companies.
 
John France
 



 


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