Monday, July 26, 2010

Naxos Releases CD Version of 'George Walker: Chamber Music and Songs'

[George Walker: Chamber Music and Songs, Son Sonora String Quartet; Capitol Chamber Artists; Angelo Frascarelli, conductor; Videmus Ensemble; Cygnus Ensemble; Naxos 8.559659 (2010) (74:23)]

George Walker is an African American composer and pianist who was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1922. He is profiled at, and his personal website is George Walker: Chamber Music and Songs is one of two major recordings of his works to be released in 2010. As AfriClassical announced on Dec. 1, 2009, the content was first released via streaming and download. It was issued on CD this month.

The new Naxos disc is generously timed; at 74:23 it is one of the longer recordings we have reviewed recently. Track 1 is String Quartet No. 2 (1968) (22:01). It is performed by the Son Sonora String Quartet: Airi Yosioka, Violin I; Ashley Horne, Violin II; Liu-Wien Ting, Viola; and Arash Amini, Cello. The composer notes that he revised the composition after its premiere, and several performances of the revised work were given before the recording was made.

Track 2 is Poem (for soprano and chamber ensemble) (1987) (15:36), with text by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). The ensemble is Capitol Chamber Artists, with sopranos Janet Stasio and Janet Rowe accompanied by 9 instrumentalists under the direction of Angelo Frascarelli, conductor. This work was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, according to the liner notes by the composer, which also say: “The premiere by the Capitol Chamber Artists in Albany NY occurred in February 1987. B.A. Nilsson, writing in the Schenectady Gazette, pronounced it 'a masterpiece'.”

George Walker's famous Lyric for Strings (version for string quartet) (1946) (6:25) is performed on Track 3 by the Son Sonora String Quartet. The liner notes tell us: “The Lyric for Strings, one of the most frequently performed orchestral works by an American composer, is heard on this disc in its original version for a string quartet.” Five Fancies (1974) (9:30) is performed on Track 4 by Eric Thomas, clarinet; Vivian Taylor, piano, and John McDonald, piano. George Walker writes: “Five Fancies may be the only work composed for the combination of clarinet and piano four hands.” Track 5 features Modus (for chamber ensemble) (2001) (9:12) in a performance by the 6 members of the Cygnus Ensemble.

George Walker is the pianist on Tracks 6-10. He is joined on the first three songs by Patricia Green, mezzo-soprano, and on the last two by James Martin, baritone. The songs, with dates, times and authors of the texts, are: I Never Saw A Moor (1986) (Emily Dickinson) (2:01); Response (1940) (Paul Laurence Dunbar) (2:26); Mother Goose (Circa 2054) (1992) (Irene Sekula) 1:21); Take, O Take Those Lips Away (2004) (William Shakespeare) (2:39); And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus (2002) Thomas Wyatt (3:10). The liner notes say: “The songs are considered to be among the finest by any contemporary composer.”