On Friday, February 3rd, the renowned Catalyst String Quartet released their third recording in their “Uncovered” Series of recordings. The Uncovered series, as recorded by the Catalyst hopes to expose the unjustly overlooked music by Black composers to a wider audience, and throw some light on whom these composers were and their important impact on music.
Uncovered Volume 1 dealt with music of Samuel Coleridge Taylor… Volume 2 dealt with chamber music of Florence Price and this third and latest volume deals with music of three composers; Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Walker and William Grant Still.
Recording this relatively unknown music by the composers has had its challenges. Much of the music in the Uncovered Series only existed in manuscript form which required the quartet to do a lot of scholarly work to piece things together due to mistakes in parts. With this third volume it was not so hard to find the music, but it still other challenges. As violinist Karla Donehew Perez of the Catalyst Quartet explains, “This time round there were the sort of normal challenge that we have experienced with a lot of this music, where there will be a score but no parts, or parts and no score.”
In the case of the George Walker quartet that is on this latest recording the Catalysts did have a reference recording to work from, but Walker made corrections to the score during that initial recording. Thankfully, the Catalysts knew colleagues who were involved in that initial recording so they were able to duplicate what Walker had intended based on that source material.
One of the hurdles that the quartet had to overcome was the problem of establishing and correctly interpreting language of this music. Composers such as Brahms, Haydn and Beethoven have been around for hundreds of years and their music has been performed and recorded regularly. Their music is steeped in tradition. As Donehew-Perez says, “For these pieces, we have kind of had to make those traditions…take the time to find where it comes from for all these composers…what they are drawing from, and their own specific language which is very specific.”
There are three quartets on this latest release. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s String Quartet no 1 called “Calvary,” William Grant Still’s “Lyric” String Quartet and George Walker’s String Quartet no1 which is coincidently titled “Lyric” as well.
All three of the quartets were composed between 1940 and 1956, and all show influences from music of the time. Whether it is Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s jazz and spiritual influenced “Calvary Quartet” or William Grant Still’s Impressionist and folk dance flavored “Lyric Quartet.” The influences are there in all their beauty and glory.
The George Walker “Lyric Quartet,” frequently gets compared to the Barber String Quartet, because like the Barber Quartet the slow middle movement very frequently gets performed on its own, and yet the outer movements have this wonderful sense of tension and release, especially when played by this fabulous quartet.
“Uncovered-Volume 3: The Music of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still and George Walker,” is a very welcome addition. The performances by the Catalysts are first rate, just like the previous volumes. This is music that will hopefully be performed and programmed more frequently on String Quartet recitals thanks to the hard work and the amazing playing of the Catalyst String Quartet.