The Piano Quintet here might well be by Brahms and the Clarinet Quintet could as easily be by Dvorák. But when you think about it, could there possibly be any higher compliments one could pay to a late nineteenth century composer, especially to a young composer of mixed race from London? Samuel Coleridge-Taylor fully deserves those compliments and more. As this 2007 Hyperion disc by the Nash Ensemble amply demonstrates, his early chamber music has the brilliance of Brahms and the energy of Dvorák, plus a highly individualistic gift for melody that rivals Schubert's. Superbly played by all concerned, the Nash Ensemble presents a well-rounded portrait of the artist as a young man. Coleridge-Taylor wrote the big four-movement Piano Quintet when he was 18 and the work shows more than promise; it shows amazing accomplishment. The Clarinet Quintet from his 20th year is even more astonishing: a bigger, bolder four-movement work written with skill, subtlety, and a solid stream of singing lyricism.
Success found Coleridge-Taylor in his 23rd year with the premiere of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, and he wrote little chamber music after that, preferring to work in the more remunerative choral-orchestral field. One of the few exceptions is the single-movement Ballade for violin and piano, Op. 73, from 1907 included here. The violin writing is as idiomatic as Sarasate's and the piano writing is as virtuosic as Rachmaninov's, but the work's lyrically passionate content is characteristically Coleridge-Taylor's. Warmly recorded in Henry Wood Hall in London by producer Andrew Keener and engineered by Simon Eadon, this disc should be heard by everyone interested in late nineteenth century European music, especially by anyone interested in English music before the First World War.