Uncovered, Vol. 3 (Catalyst Quartet)
Catalyst Quartet (Azica Records)
Uncovered, Vol. 3
Perkinson: String Quartet No. 1, ‘Calvary’; Grant Still: Lyric Quartette; G Walker: String Quartet No. 1, ‘Lyric’
Azica Records 71357 55:00 mins
Third in the Catalyst Quartet’s series devoted to repertoire by Black American composers, this album (a digital-only release) begins with the first quartet by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932–2004), an eclectic spirit who was happy to hop between classical and popular music, jazz and the adjacent worlds of ballet, television and films. Haunted by the rising and falling opening phrase of the spiritual String Quartet No. 1, ‘Calvary’, this tautly argued early work from 1956 is rhythmically ebullient and lyrically graceful, and pursues both moods in a forthright manner admirably complemented by the Catalyst players’ full-blooded tone.
Arriving after this vibrant attraction, the Lyric Quartette by William Grant Still (1895–1978) strikes the ear by comparison as the musical equivalent of limp celery. Composed it seems in the 1940s, the piece adopts a ‘universal’ melting pot of styles, variously depicting a gently euphonious Southern plantation, a pioneer settlement’s barn dance and a mountain vista in the Incas’ Peru, all in pretty pale colours that the players can’t do much to amend.
Vigour and rigour happily return in George Walker’s String Quartet No. 1, written when still a student in 1946, and the most abstract piece here. The central movement has long been famous in its orchestral arrangement (the Lyric for strings), but its simple lamenting mood hits home all the more when the varied and emotionally complex outer movements are placed on either side. Whatever the mood, Walker’s craftsmanship ensures clean lines and immediate impact, and the Catalyst Quartet pitch into the work’s beauties with equal craftsmanship and love.