Revue Chineke! / Bovell – the young orchestra continues to advocate for a neglected repertoire | Proms 2021
IIt had been a long time since I had heard Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha trilogy of cantatas in a concert; probably not, in fact, since as a schoolboy I played in a performance of the first part, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. But Chineke! have been doing their best for Coleridge-Taylor’s music since the orchestra was formed in 2015. Their first concert kicked off with her Ballad, and their last ball, conducted by Kalena Bovell, began with the Overture of “The Song of Hiawatha ”.
Strictly speaking, the overture is not part of the trilogy, although it is mostly built around the themes of the first of the cantatas. But here it never really had the curtain-raising effect it might have had, perhaps because Bovell’s performance lacked the necessary punch and incisiveness, or perhaps because the Absurdly hyperbolic program notes aroused expectations the music couldn’t meet.
There was much more conviction in the orchestra’s interpretation of Coleridge-Taylor’s work that ended the concert – his Symphony No.1 in A minor, most of which was written and performed (with Holst in the orchestra and Vaughan Williams in the audience) in 1896, while the composer was still a student at the Royal College of Music. Since Coleridge-Taylor was studying at RCM with Stanford, he did well to avoid the pervasive influence of Brahms; there’s a lot more Dvořák in the cut of the symphony’s themes and the buoyancy of his textures, with just a hint of Liszt in some of the darker passages of the triumphant finale, which he finally completed in 1901.
Like the symphony, the other two works in the program received their first performances at the Proms. The African Suite by Fela Sowande, born in Nigeria but who made a career as organist, choirmaster and jazz musician in London, is light but charming, while the Piano Concerto in one movement by Florence Price, whose soloist was Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, begins as anguished Rachmaninoff and ends as unbuttoned Gershwin. And after that balanced and elegant performance, Kanneh-Mason’s encore brought more Coleridge-Taylor, a beautifully shaped and colorful retelling of his Intermezzo in B minor, a callback from his music that is yet to be explored. .