Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dominique-René de Lerma: 'Black, Brown, and Beige #8'

Jeffrey Mumford 
(Photo: Al Fuchs, Courtesy of Oberlin Conservatory of Music)

Dominique-René de Lerma:

Great expectations
Those who know the music of teenage Mendelssohn -- the Octet, the overture to A midsummer night's dream -- would agree there might never have been so creative and individual a composer-prodigy in music (as a life-long missionary for Mozart that's very painful to admit), and there still remain those 12 string symphonies from his even earlier years.  What followed in adulthood is not always of the same quality.  Despite the popularity of Elijah, it gets awfully close to mere Satzkunst.  (Mendelssohn is next week's topic. by the way.) Now look at Coleridge-Taylor.  Not everyone has agreed with me in the past, but I think Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is masterful and touchingly inventive, and the clarinet quintet, also a work from his youth, promises a wonderful future.  But that didn't happen, did it?  I mean the Petite suite is quite charming, but better suited for promenade concerts amid potted palms than the season's series of serious essays.  Yet that was the work that was excerpted for the eighth program in Bill McLaughlin's two-week tribute to Black music.  There are works which are more historically important than pieces of great art, which some historians might respect longer than aestheticians.  If Hiawatha is not in everyone's latter category (and it ranked in the top three choral works, along with Elijah and the Messiah, for a long period), it certainly belongs to the historical.  Here was a specific work that demonstrated Black talent to Americans shortly before the eruption of the Harlem Renaissance, and helped bring that about.  Listeners not already familiar with Coleridge-Taylor might have looked on this initial exposure as only "nice" music at best. There are better.
We did hear works by two very important figures who have not appeared as often on programs as they really deserve.  Jeffrey Mumford (her easternllight), who has taught at Oberlin and, an old friend of McGlaughlin, helped guide him through this enormous world of Black music.  Jeffrey is fairly well represented by recordings, but how well has he been included on concerts, radio broadcasts, or in the literature?  The same is true for Alvin Singleton, long active in Europe, represented by a work (In Our Own House) that requires a saxophonist with seemingly more than ten fingers.  The CD of Natalie Hinderas was welcomed back for Hale Smith's Evocation.  Time did not allow a richer exploration of this classic figures' output -- his Ritual and incantations  being even more evocative.
The central work was the Liszt E-flat piano concerto, a flamboyant one-movement work, devoid of any subtlety) in the historic performance by a teenage André Watts, whose vast recorded repertoire got as close to his mother's heritage as Gershwin.
The mélange gave us a chance to hear Robert Sims, surely one of the most exciting of today's voices, in Roland Hayes' Little boy.  Again, however, we missed a thread that unites the repertoire but, as usual, Bill McLaughlin certainly continues to stimulate our minds and asks for our reactions.  The web site,, indicates titles, performers, and record labels for the repertoire under "Playlists", as well as a means for expressing our reactions and suggestions.  Shows are developed weeks in advance, but Bill is very receptive to his fans' sentiments.
In the middle of March, he will take us to the southern Americas, but the visit will not include Nunes García, any of the 18th-century figures from Brazil's Minas Gerais,  or Antônio Gomes.  So there is a virginal future.

Dominique-René de Lerma

No comments: