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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Individual and accomplished - essential listening for lovers of Romantic-era chamber music, 14 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet (Audio CD)
Although the bulk of the music here (the two quintets) hails from early in Coleridge-Taylor's tragically short career, there is little or no sense that these are works of an inexperienced composer still learning or honing his craft; indeed, the only intimations one might have that they are the products of a young man are their ardour and the sheer profusion of high-quality ideas. This is impressive and stirring stuff.

The piano quintet is the earliest piece, well-placed at the start of the disc not just on account of its chronological position in the composer's catalogue but also because its opening 'Allegro con moto' draws the listener into Coleridge-Taylor's sound world right from the turbulent opening bars: this is a sometimes dramatic, always impassioned movement that satisfies emotionally as much as it does by dint of its concise and beautifully argued control of structure. The 'Larghetto' that follows is marked by the lyrical cello melody, which dominates the movement - though more urgent counter-passages suggest that the stormier aspects of the preceding movement still lurk on the horizon of this idyll. A splendidly vital scherzo, of considerable rhythmic energy, leads to a relatively short (5 minutes long) finale; although brief, it still packs quite a punch however, and contains music of an unsettled, sometimes quite dark-hued cast, the vivacious fiddling in the striking fugato that forms its central development having something of the air of Mephistopheles starting the dance at the inn.

Wonderful though the piano quintet is, the clarinet quintet strikes me as an even more sophisticated and individual work. Its genesis apparently lay in a statement by the composer's teacher Stanford that nobody would be able to write a post-Brahms piece for that ensemble without escaping the influence of the German composer's own masterpiece in the genre: his response to Coleridge-Taylor's ensuing composition was, "You've done it, me boy!"* The opening movement is notable for the syncopation that gives it a real sense of forward momentum and energy, though even more remarkable to my ears are the varied and skilfully balanced instrumental textures, the clarinet decidedly an equal partner in the group rather than a "star turn". Coleridge-Taylor's melodic gifts are certainly to the fore in the 'Larghetto affetuoso', an outpouring of melody that occasionally attains a level of rapt beauty in the composer's handling of it. Metrical games (as with the corresponding movement of the piano quintet) are again at play during the third movement - Coleridge-Taylor seems to have had a real flair for the scherzo and no less so for writing convincing finales, at least in the quintets heard here. The finale of the clarinet quintet is as varied as that in the piano quintet, rather more upbeat in effect overall perhaps and without the unsettled air of that in the earlier work. Some of the melodic turns suggested to my inexpert ears an echo of folk music (as was the case sometimes in the opening movement also), though there is certainly nothing facilely pastoral about anything here.

The remainder of the disc is taken up with Coleridge-Taylor's `Ballade' in C minor for violin and piano, a later work than either of the quintets. It is a substantial piece of almost a quarter of an hour's duration and, though the liner notes state it is one of a series of such pieces written primarily for their saleability (and a fast financial return), it is by no means mere salon music. Indeed, its mood is predominantly a serious one, despite occasional passages of lighter and more animated music; again, the composer's pronounced lyrical gifts are amply displayed here.

Prior to purchasing this release, my only experience of Coleridge-Taylor's work had been his appealing solitary symphony**; that piece, like the two quintets, was a product of his youth but the quintets strike me as much more assured and individual, both in terms of personal expression and technique. This is extremely rewarding music, given here in exemplary performances by The Nash Ensemble and recorded in no less superb sound by Hyperion. The booklet essay is a comprehensive and well-written, providing information on the music itself and putting it in the context of the composer's all-too-short life. This isn't merely a niche disc for listeners interested in British music of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century period, it's a disc for anyone interested in Romantic chamber music full stop.

Highly recommended.

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* quote from the liner notes

** Coleridge-Taylor; Cowen - Symphonies
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Mahler at this best, 24 Aug 2008
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Charles Elford (Whitstable, Kent) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet (Audio CD)
The Nash Ensemble do Coleridge-Taylor proud in this wonderful recording. If you like Dvorak or Schubert you will find this more than matches their sponatneous-sounding style. Charles Elford - author ofBlack Mahler The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story
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Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet
Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet by The Nash Ensemble (Audio CD - 2007)
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