Barber: Dover Beach; Beach: Piano Quintet; Price: Piano Quintet
Matthew Rose (bass); Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Chandos CHAN 20224 63:58 mins
Standing on a pebbly Suffolk beach, the North Sea glowering behind them, the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective appear far from America on the booklet cover of their debut album. To a degree that’s true of the music itself. Where would Amy Beach’s String Quintet be without the musical practices of Brahms? Or Florence Price’s Quintet without Dvořák’s ‘New World’ strain? As for Barber’s Dover Beach (only a quintet if you count the vocal line as its fifth component), the composer was always closer to Europe than most of his American colleagues on the classical frontline.
Still, judging by their passionate performances, this British team clearly feel utterly at home in this repertoire, even though the artistic results prove a bit hit and miss. Tom Poster is an incisive pianist, though his prominence in the sound balance only emphasises how needlessly fussy some of Beach’s piano writing is. The Barber has a more glaring irritant: the misguided choice of the booming bass voice of Matthew Rose for an anguished vocal part written with Barber’s own lighter baritone in mind.
The hit, undoubtedly, is the premiere recording of Price’s structurally lopsided but endearing A minor Quintet, probably written in the 1930s – one of her works only discovered in 2009 in an abandoned Illinois attic. The music’s stitching may not be perfect, but there are moments of genuine beauty here; African-American jubilation too in the last pair of movements, both too short. And the icing on the cake? The Collective’s vigour and warmth.