Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Chamber Music

0 of 5 stars

Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.1
Ballade in C minor, Op.73
Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor, Op.10

The Nash Ensemble [Marianne Thorsen, Malin Broman & Benjamin Nabarro (violins), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello), Ian Brown (piano) & Richard Hosford (clarinet)]

Recorded 26-28 January 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2007
Duration: 69 minutes



More flowed from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s pen than “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”, which brought him much success if not much money – he sold the rights before performances began to notch up. This short-lived London-born composer (his dates are 1875-1912) also wrote two other Longfellow-related choral works, as well as other such pieces, together with chamber music and songs. (Note that the Ballade is Opus 73.)

The bold opening to the Piano Quintet (1893) makes an arresting start to this impressive release. This is Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Opus 1, a very confident piece in four movements that most reminds of Dvořák and, to a lesser extent, Saint-Saëns. Written very fluently, there is an attractive spontaneity to this score, an outgoing succession of good tuneful ideas that are well worked out and concisely structured. After the ebullient first movement, the Larghetto is touchingly dulcet (and inward), to which the rather darkly demonic scherzo makes a telling foil. The finale, while energetic, is not so distinctive even if the composer’s deftness and openness are to the fore; the ‘Scottish dancing’, initiated by the strings, episode certainly makes the listener sit up!

The Ballade, for violin (Marianne Thorsen) and piano, is from 1907; it is quite wistful and fluid – a rhapsody – and is rather lovely in places. As Lionel Harrison relates in his booklet note, Ballade was composed for a Russian violinist and Coleridge-Taylor greatly admired Tchaikovsky…

The Clarinet Quintet (1895) is a rather special piece. It’s melodies, however attractive, are not predictable; if a reference is needed, then it is still Dvořák, this time ‘in America’. The first movement strides assuredly, with many gossamer-like moments (Coleridge-Taylor’s instrumentation is always lucid), yet the inflections can seem just a little autumnal (shades of Brahms’s wonderful work; maybe deliberately for it seems that Stanford had said that nobody could emulate Brahms’s example) and to this the ethereal Larghetto affettuoso is intimate and long-sung. The rhythmically complex scherzo (in 3/4 and 9/8) is constantly out-manoeuvring even the most-attentive listener; the trio offers another example of Coleridge-Taylor’s generous gift for melody, and the finale is both vital and lyrical.

As one would expect from The Nash Ensemble, the performances are absolutely first-class. The sound is very good, just a little harsh and ‘removed’ at certain points, but the important thing is the music – superbly served – that is certainly worth getting to know.

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