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American Quintets
Amy BEACH (1867–1944)
Piano Quintet in F Sharp Minor Op. 67 [28:33]
Samuel BARBER (1910–1981)
Dover Beach, Op. 3 [7:25]
Florence PRICE (1887–1953)
Piano Quintet in A minor [27:41]
Matthew Rose (bass)
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
rec. 17-19 September 2020, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20224 [63:58]

It seems that during the lockdown, Chandos have turned their attention, in part, to recording chamber music, with some terrific results. This present disc is just the latest in a string of magnificent recordings. The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective is an ensemble built around the married couple of the American violinist Elena Urioste and the British pianist Tom Poster and I for one, hope that this will not be their only recording for Chandos.

Amy Bach’s Piano Quintet of 1907 has had some excellent recordings in the last few years. My first introduction to the work was the wonderful recording by The Ambache (CHAN 9752). Since then, we have had the recording by Garrick Ohlsson and the Takács Quartet (CDA68295), which I reviewed last year which emphasised the lush Romanticism of the Quintet and eclipsed the earlier recording by the Ambache. This new recording points to the modernist features of the quintet, for example, the sparse string sounds and the limpid sound of the piano in the opening of the first movement point to this being a work of its era. In fact, all three of these recordings offer something slightly different, and it is hard to choose between them, although if forced, I would go for this new recording as it provides both Romanticism and the tang of the modernist edge as well.

I must admit that Dover Beach has never been my favourite of Samuel Barber’s vocal works, although it sets Matthew Arnold’s words well and I still have a few recordings of the work, including those by Gerald Finley (CDA67528), and the now classic recording by Thomas Hampson (435 8672), but I have always been drawn mor to the likes of his Hermit Songs and the songs with piano rather than his chamber songs. Although the work calls for a ‘Medium Voice’, and most recordings are sung by a baritone, here it is sung by the bass Matthew Rose, his deeper, more operatic timbre giving the setting a pleasing, darker edge. His performance is generally quicker by about a minute than the others I have, but it never sounds rushed; rather, his smooth rendition sounds particularly good when set against the strings.

The real find here, literally, as it was found in a semi-derelict house by property developers, is Florence Price’s Quintet in A minor for Piano and Strings. She composed two piano quintets, of which the better known is in E minor and was written in 1936. I am sad to say I don’t know it, but stylistically it seems to have been composed around the same period, despite the found copy having a signed inscription on it from 1952. The work was finally published in 2017. The bold piano writing of the opening movement is late Romantic in nature and stature and makes up nearly half of the overall length of the work. It is built on grand expressions and various tempo changes, with some nice solo passages. The slow movement is not too slow and Price introduces an aspect of her African American heritage with allusions to hymns and spiritual forms, without, I think, quoting anything outright. The third movement reinforces this homage with its depiction of the Juba stomping dance. Originating the Congo, the Juba dance was brought by slaves to Charleston, South Carolina and became popular throughout the Southern plantations. Sometimes called the Pattin' Juba, the dance involved slapping the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks as the participants stomped around, its popularity being due to plantation owners having banned rhythm instruments. The rhythm is jazzy and infectious and was used in jazz dances and songs and, in more recent times, in ‘Bo Diddley beat’, a syncopated rhythm used in popular music. The final and shortest movement is the Scherzo which runs headlong, apart from a brief slightly slower central section, to the conclusion; it could also be seen as being based on a frenzied dance rhythm. This is a splendid work which has waited too long to see the light of day and deserves airtime. Perhaps as Florence Price’s star continues to rise, this will be one of the works that help her music to earn the prominence it deserves. Its juxtaposition of late Romantic with African-American styles is a real winner.

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective plays excellently throughout. They offer a cooler, more agile approach to Beach’s music. while their performance of the Barber, where they are joined by Matthew Rose, gives a strong and impassioned alternative to the usual baritone recordings. However, it is the Florence Price, which is the standout work; its strongly rhythmic music is highly attractive and the performance alone makes this disc worthy of recommendation. The recorded sound is excellent; the acoustic of Potton Hall brings out the best of this music and the musicians. The booklet notes by Mervyn Cook are informative and helpful, and are complemented by performers’ notes by Elena Urioste and Tom Poster.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)

Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Matthew Rose (bass)
Elena Urioste (violin)
Melissa White (violin)
Rosalind Ventris (viola)
Laura van der Heijden (cello)
Tom Poster (piano)

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