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Hyperion Records

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The Rose Garden by Robert Atkinson (1863-1896)
Fine Art Photographic Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67590
Recording details: January 2007
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 29 minutes 55 seconds

'This wonderful Hyperion collection featuring The Nash Ensemble at its golden-toned and responsive best … Coleridge-Taylor's Op 10 emerges as a quite astonishingly mature achievement … backed up by a blemish-free production from the Keener/Eadon team and attractively presented, this has to be one of the most engaging releases I've heard all year' (Gramophone)

'This splendid disc of early chamber music goes a long way to explain [Coleridge-Taylor's] charisma. The Piano Quintet … is a superbly characterful work with an especially original finale. And the Clarinet Quintet … is so assured, so obviously independent of the obvious contemporary model (the Brahms), that the much-overused term 'masterpiece' may not, in this instance, overstate the case … the Nash Ensemble do these deeply attractive and enjoyable works proud (the two Quintets languished unplayed for the best part of a century, and this may be the premiere recording of Op 1) in affectionate performances that revel in Coleridge-Taylor's idiomatic and challenging writing. The recording is warm but texturally crystal-clear. Highly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'There is enough mastery here and in the later Ballade for violin and piano to make highly rewarding listening. The Nash Ensemble's performances, as one would expect, are devoted and full of insight' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The composer's lyrical gift, rhythmic energy, and skilful use of colour and harmony are the work of a master … the Nash Ensemble does great justice to this music, with polished yet vigorous playing and superb musicianship' (American Record Guide)

'Coleridge-Taylor's creative light would seem to be firmly in the ascendant … the Nash Ensemble has maintained such an astonishingly high level of interpretative and technical expertise down the years that it is easy to become complacent. Yet even by its standards this is an exceptional recording, with Ian Brown excelling himself with playing of the utmost sensitivity and imagination. High honours also go to violinist Marianne Thorsen who plays the 13-minute Ballade with a radiant glow and passion which have one hanging onto her every note … enhanced by one of the most natural-sounding recordings that even Andrew Keener and Simon Eadon have ever produced, this is a must for all lovers of late-Romantic chamber music' (International Record Review)

'[Piano Quintet in G minor] is well-crafted, with piquant harmonies (the pianist, not incidentally, is the outstanding Ian Brown who brings added class to everything he touches) … the Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor commands the listener's full attention. Richard Holsford, the eloquent soloist, is heard at his best in the beautiful second-movement Larghetto' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Suave musicianship and sonic warmth … the Nash Ensemble offers a vital and intellectually stimulating accounts of these rarities and their devotion repays the listener’s curiosity many times over. The playing is fresh and vibrant, not to mention poised and erudite … not as much as a single note will disappoint' (Fanfare, USA)

'Le Nash Ensemble met beaucoup d’ardeur à défendre cette très belle musique, qui n’avait pour l’instant jamais fait l’objet d’enregistrements connus. La sonorité est ronde et pleine, le travail effectué sur la partition intelligent. Ce disque ne dépareillera aucune collection et peut même constituer la première pièce de la discographie d’un amateur de musique de chambre en herbe. Autrement dit, il ne s’agit pas de bouder son plaisir' (Classiqueinfo-disque.com)

Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor, Op 10
composer
first performed in London in 1895

Allegro energico  [9'34]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Astonishingly accomplished as the Piano Quintet may be, the Clarinet Quintet is an even greater achievement. Its composition was prompted by Stanford’s comment to the effect that after Brahms produced his Clarinet Quintet no one would be able to compose another that did not show Brahms’s influence. Coleridge-Taylor took this as a challenge and Stanford, on examining the result, remarked, ‘you’ve done it, me boy!’. He might have gone on to observe that, in the character of the thematic material and in the ways in which it is developed, the influence of Dvorák is unmistakable.

Stanford showed the piece to Joachim, who played it over with colleagues in Berlin in 1897, and it was offered to the firm of Breitkopf & Härtel for publication. Had they issued it, the composer’s career might have followed a very different path. Ever afterwards, Coleridge-Taylor nurtured the hope that he might achieve success in Germany to match that which he had realized in the USA on his three visits there between 1904 and 1910. He taught himself German to a good standard and had agreed to conduct his Violin Concerto in Berlin in 1913. Sadly, this was an engagement which he did not live to fulfil; Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia on 1 September 1912.

The tempo direction of first movement, Allegro energico, encapsulates the mood. The principal subject is launched by a forceful, thrusting figure on the cello’s C string accompanied by syncopated viola and pizzicato violins; the 6/4 metre allows Coleridge-Taylor an almost infinite variety of rhythmic freedoms and flexibilities which are in evidence from the outset. That this is a true ensemble piece and not just a vehicle for virtuoso display by the clarinet is also immediately clear—the soloist sometimes fulfils a subsidiary role in the texture, filling in the harmony or doubling string lines at the octave. Indeed, the second subject is not played in full by the clarinet until the recapitulation.

The Larghetto affettuoso (in B major) is beautiful, open-air music, the principal theme having the qualities of an idealized folk song. It provides a fine example of the composer’s love for irregular phrase-lengths, its two elements being respectively five and four bars long. The music’s tender character is enhanced by the muting of the accompanying violins (and, in the recapitulation, the viola too). A subsequent appearance of the theme on the upper strings of the cello is ravishing, and equally exquisite is the descant of the first violin which floats, pianissimo, high above the clarinet’s final reprise of it. The movement concludes with a brief cadenza-like parlando passage for the solo instrument and a final, gentle descent into a sweet repose. This is music of the deepest sensibility.

The Scherzo has a double time-signature—3/4 9/8—and at the heart of the movement is the interplay between the division of the beat into twos and threes (even within the bar). The rhythmic exuberance does not stop there, however: themes seem to stutter and sudden dynamic contrasts constantly delight. The gentler trio is based on another appealing melody which shows the influence of Dvorák.

The finale, Allegro agitato, begins with a driving rhythmic germ leavened by a Scotch snap which recurs melodically in the second strain of the principal subject and which assumes increasing significance as the movement progresses. The second subject unfolds and extends in a continuous stream until the development section proper begins; it does so with the principal subject in an unabashed G minor—a bold harmonic stroke in a movement in F sharp minor, and one typical of Coleridge-Taylor. A moment of stasis ushers in a fond reminiscence of the Larghetto, after which the coda, marked Vivace and now in F sharp major, whips up excitement in a manner which may bring to mind the end of Dvorák’s ‘American’ Quartet.

The Clarinet Quintet demonstrates beyond any doubt that Coleridge-Taylor was a gifted composer of chamber music. The thematic references between the movements give rise to a structure of remarkable subtlety and sophistication which arises from real inspiration, not mere artifice. Reviews of the London premiere in 1895, of performances in the USA in 1974 (after its eventual publication by Musica Rara) and, indeed, of The Nash Ensemble’s recital at Wigmore Hall in London in December 2006, come to much the same conclusion—that this is the work of a finished master, not of a student.

from notes by Lionel Harrison © 2007

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