Thursday, December 29, 2011

Deep River: Merwin Siu and Phoenix Park-Kim Play S. Coleridge-Taylor, R. N. Dett, H. Swanson, H. Smith & D. Baker

[Deep River: Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent; Merwin Siu, violin; Phoenix Park-Kim, piano; MSR Classics MS 1372 (2011)]

On Dec. 21, 2011 AfriClassical posted: “Deep River: Music for Violinand Piano by Composers of African Descent” by Phoenix Park-Kim &Merwin Siu.” Deep River presents works of three composers who are featured at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, R. Nathaniel Dett and Hale Smith.

The complete works of R. Nathaniel Dett and Hale Smith have been compiled by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,, and are found at The recording also includes music of David Baker, Howard Swanson and Ellis L. Marsalis, Jr.

Following the initial post, we have had an opportunity to become well acquainted with the MSR Classics release Deep River. The CD has considerable breadth, and is a notable contribution by the performers to the recorded repertoire of Composers of African Descent. .

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) composed the title work, Deep River for violin and piano, Op. 59, No. 10 (5:25). This work was transcribed by the American violinist Maud Powell. The liner notes tell us: “Coleridge-Taylor's chamber music arrangement of the spiritual Deep River shows his affinity to the late Romantic style and Negro spirituals. He said, 'What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies.'”

R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) wrote Cinnamon Grove, Suite for piano (15:28) in 1928, yet the work did not receive its world premiere until this release. The world is indebted to violinist Merwin Siu and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim for rescuing this delightful piece of late Romantic music from undeserved oblivion some eight decades after it was published. We read in the liner notes “Dett was a romanticist who composed in small forms with lyrical melodies and consistently used extra-musical ideas. Such ideas are reflected in Cinnamon Grove where Dett demonstrates his knowledge and love of poetry as well as African American folk song. Each movement of the suite is inspired by poetry: the first on lines from The Dream by John Donne; the second on lines from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore; the third on lines from Epimetheus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and the fourth and final on lines from a song in the collection Religious Folk Songs of the Negro.

Howard Swanson (1907-1978) is represented on the disc by Nocturne for violin and piano (4:15), which he composed in 1951. As the liner notes say, “His Nocturne is an excellent example of his distinctive lyrical gift, expressed through the utmost economy of means.”

Hale Smith (1925-2009) wrote Epicedial Variations for violin and piano (13:48) in 1979. The liner notes tell us: “When Hale Smith passed away in 2009, he left behind a legacy as a revered educator and distinguished New York-based jazz pianist who had worked with artists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to the poet Langston Hughes. However, Smith is equally renowned as a formal composer, and he owed much of his training to his principal theory teacher, Ward Lewis at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The Epicedial Variations were dedicated to memory of his teacher. Elegiac in character, the variations begin with a declarative statement from the violin before presenting the main theme, based in part on an anagram of Ward Lewis' name. The variations are highlighted by two solo cadenzas before returning to a subdued conclusion that combines the introductory material and main theme.”

David Baker (b. 1931) gives us Ethnic Variations On A Theme Of Paganini for violin and piano (10:40), a 1976 composition. The nine variations include Bebop, Swing and Funky Groove. The liner notes indicate: “Baker composed Ethnic Variations in 1976 on a commission from violinist Ruggiero Ricci. On the theme of Paganini's 24th Caprice, Baker fused elements of jazz and classical music through his nine variations.”

Ellis L. Marsalis, Jr. (b. 1934) composed The Fourth Autumn for piano (5:33) about 1985. We read in the liner notes: “Since 1989, Marsalis has headed the jazz department at the University of New Orleans and has influenced the careers of countless musicians. In 2008, he was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. The Fourth Autumn, a ballad written as a wedding anniversary present for his friend, demonstrates a blend of the Romantic tradition and modern jazz harmonies.”

Disclaimer: A review copy of this CD was provided by the performers.

Comment by email:
Hi, you might want to check out the new book by Sabine Feisst entitled Schoenberg's New World: The American Years. There is a tiny reference to Hale as one of the American composers using Schoenberg's method in Hales "dodecaphonic piano work "Evocations" (1961).   The book is hefty in content and I am sure that I am missing a lot by not being a musician, but the over all is intriguing and informative. Thanks for keeping  me apprised of musical events, Happy New Year! Juanita [Juanita Smith] 

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