Rumours about this disc have been abroad for the last two years at least.
Now it has arrived it exceeds highest expectations for the musical and technical
Coleridge-Taylor was for many years in the UK a much loved figure although
I have always wondered (perhaps uncharitably) whether his late 'Hiawatha'
heyday during the period 1920-50 was only possible because (as a black composer)
he had died young in his vigorous thirties. Would the mores of the day have
permitted such affection if C-T had lived to his seventies at least. The
British public of that era were notably conservative. What an interesting
test that would have made. Would Sargent and other luminaries who conducted
the Hiawatha festivals have felt comfortable sharing curtain calls with an
elderly coloured composer. Certainly C-T suffered from prejudice and that
also pursued his daughter Avril (whose recent death is a matter of sadness
and whose music should certainly be recorded).
Fortunately the music can be enjoyed now without concern. In fact the meltingly
mellifluous lines may well receive an added poignancy from the fact that
he wrote in conditions of considerable adversity. The shade of Dvorák
stalks the freshly executed and beautifully rounded performance of the five
movement string quartet. Just occasionally I also thought of the Smetana
quartets. The piece can be enjoyed in all its glory without any special pleading.
Especially fine are the final scudding Dance and the central Humoresque.
If the breezily affecting string quartet is of the previous century. The
Five Negro Melodies are in their sentiments very much of this century. The
Motherless Child (I) is very Russian in feel - Borodin in fact - and powerfully
emotional. All praise to the artists involved.
As for the nonet. Just listen to the succulent tune for the solo clarinet
in the first of the four movements. This is all slightly Brahmsian (Third
Symphony) but nothing wrong with that. The piano writing recalls later works
by Stanford (his teacher) such as the fine second piano concerto and the
clarinet concerto. However an even earlier work by Stanford is also in the
sights: the 1882 Serenade (available on Hyperion). The Tchaikovsky First
Piano Concerto can also be heard as a distant influence in the first and
third movements. However don't let my talk of influences put you off. The
music breathes inspiration and it is projected by the players in a way that
suggests profound absorption in Coleridge-Taylor's vivid imagination.
The notes (English only) are helpful and blessedly avoid resorting to opaque
What we must hope for now is the violin concerto (recently performed by John
Mclaughlin Williams at Harvard) to be recorded by Mr Williams. Mr Williams,
by the way is a champion of British music. He has given the US premiere of
the Bax violin concerto and has also given performances of the Bax violin
sonatas. I do hope that he will be recorded in this repertoire.
When you hear this music you will ask yourself why it is not heard more often.
If still unconvinced try tracks 3, 5, 6 and, above all, 11. A strong
recommendation for a generously timed and full-hearted disc.
This CD may be ordered from AFKA directly. You must use an international
money order, payable to them in US dollars. The cost is $30 dollars, 11 of
which is for the shipping. Quote CD# SK 543
Send CDrequests/orders to:
Wilmington, Massachusetts 01887