An Attention-Worthy Violin Program

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

Born in 1993, violinist Samuel Nebyu currently studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University in Philadelphia under Dr. Eduard Schneider. At Dr. Schneider’s suggestion, Nebyu embarked on researching classical composers of African descent, which led to the present disc, presented on the university’s own label.

My colleague Victor Carr Jr has written extensively about Joseph de Boulogne (1745-1799)—also known as Chévalier du Saint-Georges—and how he rose from humble origins to pursue an extraordinary life as an expert marksman, skater, dancer, horseman, leader of a military regiment, and a triple-threat violinist, conductor, and composer. In fact, Boulogne went to Austria to commission Haydn’s six “Paris” symphonies, and premiered them with the Concert de la Loge Olympique. His two-movement Sonata abounds with melodic invention and witty interplay that wouldn’t be out of place in, you guessed it, Haydn.

By contrast, the Four Southland Sketches by Henry “Harry” T. Burleigh (1866-1948) reflect the charm and scale of miniatures by such composers as Charles Wakefield Cadman and Edward MacDowell, with hints of Stephen Foster. The British-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) makes more of the violin’s range and virtuosic potential, not to mention his resourceful piano writing. His treatment of the spiritual Deep River and the Four African Dances often evoke Dvorák’s melodic fluency, although the large-scale Romance’s use of wide intervals and more upholstered textures could superficially be mistaken for early Elgar.

Out of the four spiritual-based movements in the Bandanna Sketches by Clarence Cameron White (1880-1960), the concluding Negro Dance holds the most interest for its veering between plaintive lyricism and spirited fireworks. Nebyu particularly shines in the latter’s breathtaking spiccato runs and unfettered flourishes. Sometimes he forces his tone in sustained passages above the staff, and as a consequence his solid intonation goes momentarily awry. Yet one can’t carp about his stylistic instincts; listen, for example, to the subtle tonal inflections and apt portamentos in the Burleigh’s Allegro finale, and you’ll hear what I mean. And don’t take Bethany Brooks’ superb and sympathetic piano work for granted.

Sonically speaking, I would have preferred a less dry and up-close recorded ambience. The annotations give good biographical information about the composers but say nothing about the works themselves. All things considered, Nebyu’s advocacy of this repertoire merits attention and airplay.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Music by Composers of African Descent
Reference Recording: None for this collection

JOSEPH BOULOGNE (Chévalier du Saint-Georges): Sonata in B-flat major Op. 1a
HENRY "HARRY" T. BURLEIGH: Four Southland Sketches
SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Four African Dances Op. 58; Deep River Op. 59; Romance for Violin Op. 39
CLARENCE CAMERON WHITE: Bandanna Sketches Op. 12

  • Samuel Nebyu (violin); Bethany Brooks (piano)

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