Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Julius Harrison

COMPOSERS: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Julius Harrison
LABELS: Lyrita
ALBUM TITLE: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
WORKS: Violin Concerto;Romance in G; Legend; Bredon Hill
PERFORMER: Lorraine McAslan (violin);
London Philharmonic
Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite

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CATALOGUE NO: SRCD. 317
The half-African Londoner Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was especially admired in the USA, where he was hailed as ‘the black Mahler’; and it was for an American festival that he wrote his Violin Concerto shortly before his premature death in 1912. It’s certainly a fine piece, purposefully threading an almost continuous melodic line through three movements including many changes of time-signature and tempo, with a solo part reflecting the composer’s experience as a violinist.

The work was given a pioneering recording by Philippe Graffin on Avie in 2004, followed the next year by Anthony Marwood’s altogether tighter account on Hyperion. But all the while, it seems, this Lyrita recording, made as long ago as January 1994, was sitting on the shelf. Lorraine McAslan plays with easy virtuosity and an almost Heifetz-like intensity of focus, while the London Philharmonic, with occasionally audible encouragement from Nicholas Braithwaite, provides characterful support. The benchmark decision is close, but a full, clear recording just clinches it for the cruelly belated newcomer.

To complement the Concerto, there’s a Legend written while Coleridge-Taylor was still studying with Stanford, and a slightly later Romance – both pieces of Dvorák-like charm. There’s also a Housman-inspired rhapsody by the younger, longer-lived Julius Harrison, which infuses the pastoral mode of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending with genuinely tragic feeling. Again it’s played with both fervour and finesse.

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Anthony Burton