“Music of Composers of African Descent”
Joseph Bologne Chevalier Saint-Georges: Sonata in B-Flat major, opus 1a
Henry Thacker Burleigh: Four Southland Sketches
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Four African Dances, opus 58 – Deep River, opus 59 – Romance for Violin, opus 39
Clarence Cameron White: Bandanna Sketches, opus 12
Samuel Nebyu (violin), Bethany Brooks (piano)
Recording: Boyer College Recording Studio, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (April 2017) – 74’
BCM+D Records 88295 59439 – Booklet in English (Distributed by CDBaby)
Refreshing! At every turn of this CD, one finds inherent beauties penned by four recondite composers of African descent. This “salon” music is made all the more worthy of attention due to the violinist’s background. Samuel Nebyu could lay claim as classical music’s up-and-coming “United Nations Ambassador” due to the 23 year old’s multi-cultural roots. In his debuting album, this Hungarian-born man of Jewish-European and African ancestry can credit inspirational draws from [his] current mentor, Boyer College’s Artistic Director of Strings, Dr. Eduard Schmieder. Fêted with numerous awards since picking up violin at age six, Samuel Nebyu has opened us up to compositions which would have been long forgotten without his teacher’s intuitive consult.
“Music by Composers of African Descent” pays tribute to men sparking inspiration among others to follow of similar racial background. A wonderful CD construct is that it educates via chronological timeline, thus enabling one to contemplate evolution of such music.
Joseph Bologne Chevalier Saint-Georges, credited as being the first classical composer of African origin, was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. But his influences were greatly magnified when he claimed France as his home in later years. In the Sonata in B-Flat major, Mr. Nebyu commands the composition with a lacey, feathery complexion; it is particularly attention-getting while being accompanied by the nimbleness of Bethany Brooks on piano. The music is collectively grounded in elegant simplicity, European-driven and almost Hayden-esque. The uncomplicated melody is made even more alluring by Samuel Nebyu’s stringed finesse.
The last three composers have a heavier imprint from The United States that is compounded by African-American charm. Mr. Nebyu characterizes Henry Thacker Burleigh’s Southland Sketches with buttery softness and douceur: this music flows without signs of force or contrivance.
Inside the African Dances we find Mr. Nebyu’s wizardry taking on a slightly different emotional tone. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s notes tell more of a romantic tale in which the violinist’s dialogue sparks with sweeping grandeur that intermittently get injected with Bethany Brooks’ commentary. One of loveliest movements is the “Andantino Molto” which pushes us into escapism. Here Mr. Nebyu’s strings dreamily float away like that of an operatic soprano singing a showcase aria...breathtaking. The ensuing Deep River sweeps us back to Broadway © and Jerome Kern’s Ol’ Man River from his 1927 Showboat. Though not as broody in nature, Deep River still insistently takes us on a generally slow-paced and pined adventure despite a middle pocket of heightened anxiety. Those of us who have lived in the Deep South will relate to the music’s energy and charisma.
The longest piece, Romance for Violin, allows Mr. Nebyu to handle his own personal thoughts of melodrama. Coleridge-Taylor’s lines get a bit saccharine, but Samuel Nebyu engages the music without playing [it] with soppiness.
Clarksville, Tennessean Clarence Cameron White closes with his own reflection of well-known spirituals reaching into the Deep South. Most movements will be familiar phrases to the listener, yet the translation by Samuel Nebyu carries with it piercing remembrances of sadness. We shall not forget the hardships of those men and women woven into Mr. White’s fabric.
Acoustics on the BCM+D recording is first rate, and it permits the mastery of Samuel Nebyu and Bethany Brooks to shine. Compelling.