Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jan Swafford: 'Feldman considers Walker's Cello Sonata to be one of the lesser-known masterpieces of the American cello repertoire.'

Delos 3449

George Walker and Emmanuel Feldman
Delos 3449

Our American Roots: Gershwin, Barber, Walker, Copland; Emmanuel Feldman, cello; Joy Cline Phinney, piano; Delos 3449 (2013).

The composer and pianist George Walker was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922, is featured at and has a website at  He made history in 1996 as the first African-American Pulitzer Prize Winner in Music. George Walker has recorded prolifically; lists 27 CDs under his name. An impressive number are devoted entirely to his compositions, as is the case for George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (2012). The composer's most recent release is his first on the Delos Music label, and was released on May 28, 2013.

Jan Swafford writes in the liner notes: “The works on this recording are all American and all essentially songful.” “George Walker is a composer of African American/West Indian background whose highly personal Cello Sonata defies categories, but who retains a subtle undercurrent of black American tradition.” “George Walker gave his first piano recital at age 14 and went on to a spectacular academic and performing career that started at Oberlin (from which he graduated first in his class at 18) and moved to Curtis, where his piano teachers included Rudolf Serkin and his composition teacher was Rosario Scalero, who taught Barber.”

Swafford then remarks on George Walker's string of successes following his graduation from Curtis, “After graduating, Walker went on to break the musical color line in one venue after another: the first black musician to solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and to get a doctorate from Eastman, among other distinctions. Following Barber's lead with Adagio for Strings, Walker took his Lyric for Strings out of his first string quartet and it became one of the most performed of American orchestral pieces. He has published over 90 works and recorded widely as a pianist.”

Jan Swafford informs us: “Feldman considers Walker's Cello Sonata to be one of the lesser-known masterpieces of the American cello repertoire.” We are told of the work “It begins with a bustling figure in the piano from which the cello's theme rises, with its mingling of nervous energy and wistfulness. That is contrasted with a poignant second theme, perhaps touched both by blues and Brahms. There follows a development with a growing stress and passion that carries into a driving recapitulation.” Of the second movement we are told: “Feldman is reminded of Shostakovich here, and there is a distant, melancholy echo of the blues.”

Swafford concludes: “Ultimately, the Walker Cello Sonata escapes categories of American or African-American, Romantic or Modern. It is simply and memorably itself.”

Each of the five George Gershwin pieces is adapted or arranged by Emmanuel Feldman. The two Copland works are arranged for cello and piano by the composer. The compositions of Samuel Barber and George Walker are performed as written. The recording as a whole is a coherent and very enjoyable excursion into the music of four American composers.

Disclosure: A review copy of this CD was provided by the record label.

Comment by email:
Hello Bill, Thanks very much for the review. Best regards. George [George Walker] 

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