Petite Suite de Concert
Ballade for Violin and Piano
Clarinet Quintet

Virginia Eskin piano
Michael Ludwig violin
Harold Wright clarinet
Hawthorne String Quartet


The more of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s music that becomes available the more it becomes apparent that his tragically early death was a huge loss to the world of music.  Imagine if his contemporaries Vaughan Williams or Holst had died at the age of 37, what music would have been lost! As a mixed-race musician in the early 1900s, he had to work twice as hard as others. His natural talent shone through however and he became a favoured pupil of the notoriously difficult Stanford.

The Petite Suite de Concert is one of his most popular works and justifiably so as it is full of memorable tunes and rhythmic zest. It appeared first in an orchestral version, this piano version appeared in 1916 after his death.  Ms Eskin who studied with Dame Myra Hess and Gina Bachauer, makes light of its difficulties and is particularly convincing in the brilliant outer movements.

 The Spirituals seem to be movements taken from the 24 Negro Melodies of 1905, melodies he had found on one of his visits to the USA. Deep River the most substantial here at 5½ minutes was, according to the published score, the composer’s favourite.  It is indeed a most impressive development of the simple melody, the arpeggiated chords capture the river of the title and the subtle changes of key and register are very moving. The Bamboula, uses the same melody as Gottschalk’s celebrated work of the same name and is a fun show piece.

The remaining two works are impressive achievements from the 20-year-old composer. The Ballade in D minor was originally for violin and orchestra but is most convincing with piano. It is a turbulent work impressive in its form and material and the performers here make one wonder why it is not heard more often. 

The disc ends with the Clarinet Quintet which so impressed Stanford.  It is no pastiche of Brahms, as could have been expected, but is a rhythmically exuberant complex work that beautifully weaves the clarinet line into the string texture. The young composer does not put a foot wrong, and neither do the performers.  This is not surprising as most of them were associated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The late Harold Wright was principal clarinet of that orchestra and his tone and brilliant technique are more than a match for the work.

The CD booklet is curiously laid out and has a few inaccuracies – perhaps it was collated from different originals – the composer was born in 1875 not 1885, the Quintet is in F# minor not A minor. There are no problems with the superb performers, they all enter into the spirit of the music wholeheartedly.

Review by Paul RW Jackson