February is Black History Month and throughout the month, in the 1:00 p.m. hour, Classic 107 will be featuring music written by Black composers. Tune in throughout the first complete week of February (Feb. 5 to 9) as we will feature the marvelous, and gorgeous music of English composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor.
Starting on Monday the 5th we will be putting to air his romantic and beautifully Dvorak-influenced 'Piano Quintet in G minor.'
One of the recordings that will feature prominently throughout the week is the recording that the renowned Catalyst String Quartet has made of Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber works.
Find out more details about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, his chamber music, and the Catalyst Quartet’s recording of Coleridge-Taylor’s music by checking out Chris Wolf’s conversation that he had with the cellist of the Catalysts Karlos Rodriquez in 2021.
Since the Catalyst Quartet was formed in 2010, they have gone on to establish themselves as one of the foremost string quartets around today. Hailed for their “perfect ensemble unity” and “unequaled class of execution,” the Quartet has toured widely throughout the United States and abroad. They have had international engagements in Russia, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, and have performed at packed houses wherever they perform. Their 2018 recording that they made with jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant went on to win a Grammy in 2018, and most recently they are in the process of recording a multi-disc series of recordings that feature music of Black composers on the Azica record label.
The Catalyst Quartet members are:
Karla Donehew Perez, violin;
Abi Fayette, violin;
Paul Laraia, viola
Karlos Rodriguez, cello
Catalyst is the name of the quartet, but it also describes one of the major tenets of the quartet. As their website states, “We Believe in the unity that can be achieved through music and imagine our programs and projects with this in mind, redefining and reimagining the classical music experience.”
The quartet strives to put together programs that are new and interesting for the listener. “We are a very project-driven quartet, and for us just playing the incredible repertoire that exists for the string quartet isn’t really enough by itself,” says Karlos Rodriguez, cellist of the Catalyst Quartet. “We want to take the music that we have at our disposal, which is so vast and incredible, from the traditional standard canon of Beethoven and Schubert into new music and music that has yet to be written.”
This first volume features the music of the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor was born in England to an English mother and a father who was originally from Sierra Leone and worked as a doctor. Coleridge-Taylor had access to the finest in music education, studying with Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London. He also fostered and found support from some of the leading English composers of the day including Edward Elgar. He went on to be a hugely prolific composer, despite only living to be 37 years old.
“He’s kind of like a Schubert who went on and did so much in a small amount of time…or like a Mozart,” states Rodriguez. “And he was just a dynamic person.”
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor visited the United States three times and had his works performed there widely. His visits to the States were notable because he encouraged fellow Black musicians, and also because he was respected not only by Blacks but by whites as well; including famously being invited to meet Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.
There are three of Coleridge-Taylor’s works on the Catalyst Quartet’s latest recording; the piano quintet, the clarinet quintet, and Coleridge-Taylor’s Fantasiestucke for String Quartet. The Quartet is joined by Canadian superstar pianist Stewart Goodyear, and the amazing principal clarinetist of The New York Philharmonic, Anthony McGill.
“We thought of some of our best friends that we thought would shine in this project and belong to this project in a way based on where they’re from and their experience… and could really say something important to this work,” says Karlos.
“Anthony McGill is a wonderful clarinetist, and we have worked together tangentially over the years, and this was a great opportunity for us to collaborate.” For pianist Stewart Goodyear; Rodriguez has high praise. “He is one of the most incredible pianists living today. The word genius is not far from his name in my book,” says Rodriguez.
The word genius does not only apply to Goodyear when it comes to the recording of this disc! Throughout the CD there is an amazing sense of balance, colour, expression, and nuance in the Quartet’s playing. It is clear that these four players have thought about every detail in this rarely-heard music. Dynamics, note lengths, and impeccable blending and tuning…it is all there! The Catalyst Quartet demonstrates on this CD that they are the complete package. The fact that the Quartet is joined by two world-class musicians is just an added bonus.
The two special guest stars on the disc also shine throughout. Clarinetist Anthony McGill’s characteristic velvety expressive playing is a true gem on this disc. His interpretation of the clarinet quintet is spot on; especially in collaboration with the Catalysts. Stewart Goodyear’s playing is perfect! He never overpowers the quartet and seems always aware of when he is foreground or background, and always plays with stunning beauty.
Special congratulations should also be made to the recording engineers at Azica Records. There is equality between the Quartet and the extra players on the disc that is excellent. You never get the sense that it is a string Quartet with a side order of piano or clarinet. Here there are five players just having fun playing and exploring the music of this hugely underrated composer. The room is never too boomy, and the mic placement is excellent. What the Catalyst Quartet and the engineers at Azica have created is an intimate and enjoyable chamber music listening session.