Two new chamber releases reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe


AMERICAN QUINTETS: Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective ★★★★

American composer Florence Beatrice Price's life is perfect movie material. Of mixed race and born in bigoted Arkansas in 1887 Florence fought bigotry to get a musical education – even pretending to be a Mexican to avoid prejudice against her African heritage. She was indefatigable: her E minor Symphony was premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Quintet in A minor for piano and strings featured here was written at about the same time, its conventional late romanticism enlivened by incorporating stomping Juba slave-dance rhythms in its lively third movement. Amy Beach's music is better known and her F sharp minor Quintet has been recorded several times but this is the finest, the KCC giving its full Brahmsian textures weight without stodginess. Sample the passionate adagio espressivo. Samuel Barber's deeply felt setting of Matthew Arnold's bleak poem Dover Beach, with Matthew Rose as soloist, rounds off an excellent disc.

Norman Stinchcombe

THE KING'S ALCHEMIST: British String Trios / Eblana String Trio ★★★★

The title work is by Sally Beamish a composer who knows chamber music from the inside as a long-time violist with the Raphael Ensemble. It's inspired by the colourful antics of 16th century John Damian who, at the court of King James IV, combined alchemy with whisky distilling and an attempt at flying – he ended in the castle midden. Beamish's use of the French folk song L'Homme armé gives the exuberant piece a welcoming familiarity. Hugh Wood's Ithaca, based not on Homer but Constantine Cavafy, is also pictorial but altogether tougher fare. The Birmingham-based Eblana String Trio – the CBSO's Jonathan Martindale on violin – revel in its alternating lyricism, violence and austere fugal textures. E.J. Moeran's work is in the English pastoral tradition with a delicate melancholy central adagio. Gerald Finzi's Prelude and Fugue for string trio Op 24 shares that tradition but is rather spikier and acerbic. Top sound quality.

Norman Stinchcombe

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