Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music is a world premiere recording of three works of the composer by The Coleridge Ensemble on AFKA SK-543 (1998). They are Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) for String Quartet, Op. 5 (20:55); Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio, Op. 59, No. 1 (18:10); and Nonet in f minor, Op. 2 (26:40). The members of the ensemble are John McLaughlin Williams, violin; Hilary Walther, violin (Quartet); Lisa Sustowicz, viola; William E. Thomas, cello; Pascale Delache-Feldman, bass; Jane Harrison, oboe; Eric Thomas, clarinet; Ronald Haroutunian, bassoon; Robin Cavalear, horn; Fredricka King, piano (Trio); and Christopher Walter, piano (Nonet).

Rob Barnett has reviewed the CD for MusicWeb International. William E. Thomas has written a liner note on the chamber music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:

It is clear that the period of time Coleridge-Taylor spent as a student at the Royal College (1890-1897) from age 15 to 22 was the period when he turned his attention to chamber music. There are many reasons one might think to explain this: personal interest and knowledge; requirements of his teacher, Sir Charles Stanford; the greater possibility of performance; i.e., the economy of smaller instrumental forces; and the models presented by other great composers like Brahms and Dvorak.

Whatever the reasons Coleridge-Taylor chose the idioms of the trio, quartet, quintet and nonet, we who love chamber music are the beneficiaries. In choosing these structures Coleridge-Taylor found and developed for himself a form that was receptive for a type of profound musical expression that suited both himself and the structures.

Performances of most of his early works took place at the Royal College. Sir George Grove, who was then director of the College, was present at the premiere of the Nonet on July 5, 1895. In his book Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Musician, His Life and Letters, W.C.B. Sayers records the following incident:

At the conclusion of the piece, the applause was very great, and there were demands for the composer. He, however, was not forthcoming, and, the applause continuing, Sir George himself went n search of Coleridge-Taylor. Although he (Coleridge-Taylor) had found the courage to face an audience in his own town, at college so great had been his dread... he had fled upstairs and hidden himself in the organ room, whence Grove dragged him forth.

John McLaughlin Williams writes of the Fantasiestücke for String Quartet, Op. 5:

Coleridge-Taylor's Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) were composed in 1895, while he was still a student at the Royal College. This work was dedicated by Coleridge-Taylor to his composition teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford, Esq. The work is breathtakingly assured technically, the composer employing some cyclic elements and generally showing great understanding of the textural problems of quartet writing. Each movement creates a character unto its own, all the while retaining a palpable freshness that remains to this day. The Fantasiestücke were published posthumously in 1921.

William E. Thomas comments on Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio, Op. 59, No. 1:

This work is an arrangement for piano trio of five of the compositions for solo piano taken from his Twenty-four Negro Melodies.

The songs are: "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" (Audio sample of complete track) (4:55); "I was way down a-yonder" (4:20); "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel" (1:25); "They will not lend me a child" (5:20); and "My Lord delivered Daniel" (2:00).

Thomas says of the Nonet in f minor, Op.2:

This recording of chamber music by the Africa-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is the first recording made of the works presented here. The task of presenting "new" works to the repertoire is both challenging and rewarding. In the case of the Nonet the ensemble was working from copies of the original manuscript. The process of collecting and editing has been interesting and deeply satisfying. The thought of bringing to life a major piece of chamber music that has been neglected for over 100 years is enormously exciting and bears a considerable responsibility.

The Nonet, written for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, string bass, and piano, was first performed on July 5, 1895.

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