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Coleridge-Taylor PERKINSON (1932-2004)
Sinfonietta No.1 for strings (1954-55) [15.17]
Grass: Poem for piano, strings and percussion (1956) [16.08]
Quartet No.1 based on “Calvary” (Negro Spiritual) (1956) [17.04]
Blue/s Forms for solo violin (1972) [7.26]
Lamentations; Black/Folk Song Suite for solo cello 91973) [15.38]
Louisiana Blues Strut (A Cakewalk) (2001) [2.49]
Movement for String Trio (2004) [3.56]
Chicago Sinfonietta/Paul Freeman (Sinfonietta)
Joseph Joubert (piano)/ Chicago Sinfonietta/Paul Freeman (Grass)
New Black Repertory Ensemble Quartet (Quartet)
Sanford Allen (violin) (Blue/s Forms for solo violin)
Tahirah Whittington (cello) (Lamentations)
Ashley Horne (violin) (Louisiana Blues Strut)
Sanford Allen (violin), Jesse Levine (viola) and Carter Brey (cello) (Movement for String Trio)
rec. Lund Auditorium, Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois, May 2005 (Sinfonietta), WFMT Chicago, May 2005 Quartet, Louisiana Blues Strut and Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, remainder
CEDILLE CDR 90000 087 [79.01]



This is rightly termed A Celebration of the work of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and not a Memorial or something equally sombre. He died in 2004 and these premiere recordings span his compositional life and show a composer of gifts.

He studied with Vittorio Giannini and Earl Kim but carried on a parallel career in jazz, even becoming pianist in one of Max Roach’s quartets. Clearly for Perkinson black music was an issue that recurred throughout his career, though his 1978 comments on the matter as quoted here “I cannot define black music ... There are kinds of black music, just as there are kind of other musics ...” strike me as being pragmatic and practical and pretty much all that needs to be said on the matter, at least as far as his own music is concerned.

The earliest work here is the neo-classical Sinfonietta No.1 dating from the mid-1950s. Maybe there are echoes of Barber’s Adagio in the slow movement, as alleged in the notes, but the finale is more reminiscent of Copland in fresh air mode. There’s a lissom, well-digested though rather restless dynamism at work here. Grass, a Poem for piano, strings and percussion followed in 1956 and adhered to the same basic models, albeit that the piano part offers greater opportunities for lyricism amidst some of the dissonances.

The Quartet No.1 (1956), which Perkinson takes care to note is based on the Negro Spiritual Calvary, has more neo-classical freedom harnessed to a bluesier ethos, but one that also embraces some Vaughan Williams in the central movement. Hs solo work Blue/s Forms for solo violin is a tricksy title but has an arresting Bachian opening. But the improvisatory effect in the second movement is the really interesting part, its blues melancholy repeated almost too much.

Lamentations (1973) is written for solo cello and it marked a period of writing for solo stringed instruments.  It has dynamism and a consolidation of Perkinson’s own accommodation of blues and spiritual influences with neo-classical procedures. Louisiana Blues Strut is down home – no messing about – and the Movement for string trio is the last thing he wrote, in the year of his death. It has an affecting simplicity, a stripping away of the external and extraneous.

There were different recording locations involved, necessarily, and the sound quality does vary. Performances are generally excellent; idiomatic and understanding and notes are intelligent and sensible. Perkinson’s voice was a valuable one and we could do with more of his music on disc.

Jonathan Woolf


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