Until this past year or so the only works I had ever heard by Coleridge-Taylor were, of course the Hiawatha Cantatas and the Violin Concerto. Now he seems to be everywhere including the last night of the Proms. I wasn’t surprised therefore to receive this disc of his piano works. Good too that it is a black pianist of great renown and ability, Luke Welch, who is presenting this rare repertoire and playing it with such conviction.
The composer had a mixed cultural heritage and this dichotomy, one might say, is reflected in his output. The booklet essay, which I assume was written by Welch, make great play of Coleridge-Taylor’s fascination with spirituals and other Afro-American music. The first work however, the five movement Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet Op. 74 does not seem to be anything other late Romantic European light music, attractive but rather anonymous. Although the notes tell an interesting tale about the composer and his background there is, sadly, no mention of the individual pieces, it would be good know how and why this, obviously late work, came into existence.
The earlier Three Humoresque’s Op 31 follow. It is difficult to find any influence of spirituals in these works with the possible exception of the melody of middle one (Molto Vivace). The third is frankly, over repetitive and meanders. The un-opused Intermezzo which follows reminds me of Mendelssohn on a less interesting day, and more like a Victorian parlour piece. But I was much taken with the brief Papillon, an attractive piece of virtuoso writing in ternary form.
The Valse suite, Three Fours the final set of pieces, constitutes a set of six attractive waltzes. Here, the inspirational level is much higher and melodies, all memorable, do not outstay their welcome, especially so the lovely Andante which comes second. In fact, each is given the usual Italian speed indications. The Allegro moderato is in the kind of mood heard also in the second Humoresque, being largely in a minor key, and seemingly more influenced by traditional music. The remaining waltzes show a Dvorákian influence, but also a personality which the rest of the CD fails to demonstrate. They have strong material and, in the case of the fourth and the last one, a sturdily emotional rhythmic drive.
The CD comes in a slimline cardboard casing with excellent quality colour photographs, but all in all this is a bit of a curate’s egg.
Review by Gary Higginson