Monday, August 20, 2007

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 80

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 80 (31:25) was recorded for the first time by Philippe Graffin, violin, and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michael Hankinson, on Avie AV0044 (2004).
Jessica Duchen outlines the origin of the work in her liner notes for the CD, quoted here in part:

Visiting the USA in 1906, Coleridge-Taylor met the musical philanthropists Carl and Ellen Stoeckel who from that year onwards held an annual Norfolk Music Festival in their 'Music Shed' (seating more than 1600 people) in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains. They invited him to conduct Hiawatha at the festival in 1910, where he was much fêted by an enthusiastic audience. The occasion gave him the chance to become reacquainted with the great violinist Maud Powell, who had already performed several of his short works for violin and piano.

In discussion with Powell and the Stoeckels, Coleridge-Taylor developed the idea of writing a violin concerto based on negro spiritual themes. After he had completed the work, however, neither he nor Powell was content with it. The composer asked the violinist to send it back, saying that he was instead 'writing a new work at white heat'; Carl Stoeckel also received word from Coleridge-Taylor 'requesting me to throw (the concerto) into the fire; and saying that he had written an entirely new and original work, all the melodies being his own, and that it was a hundred times better than the first composition'.

On receiving the replacement concerto, Powell declared that it was 'like a bouquet of flowers' and dubbed the composer 'a coloured Dvorak'. She agreed to give the premiere on 4 June 1912 - though the event was almost scuppered when the orchestral parts were shipped to the USA on the Titanic. Fortunately, Coleridge-Taylor was able to produce a new set in time.

Less happily, he was unable to attend the premiere himself. Overworked and exhausted - his celebrity did not extend to financial security - he died of pneumonia that September, aged only 38.

Rob Barnett has written a favorable review of the CD for MusicWeb International in which he observes:

It is a highly attractive work with a powerfully memorable store of whistleable tunes both sweetly sung and lively.

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