Mark Gresham | 01 FEB 2019
Back in January, Sony Classical reissued a body of historically important recordings in a notable pair of boxed collections: the Black Composer Series: The Complete Album Collection, from the CBS Masterworks archives, and Juilliard String Quartet: The Complete RCA Recordings.
Black Composer Series: The Complete Album Collection
Just in time for Black History Month comes the Black Composer Series: The Complete Album Collectionfeaturing the pioneering American conductor Paul Freeman (1936-2015). A champion of music by black composers, Freeman was best known as founder/conductor of the Chicago Sinfonietta. His personal papers, collection of scores, audio and video media are preserved at the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College in Chicago.
Freeman’s groundbreaking CBS Masterworks series of nine LP recordings from the 1970s, plus a 10th album first released by Freeman and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979, are gathered together in this 10 CD boxed set, all remastered from the original analog tapes using 24 bit/192 kHz technology.
Among the many excellent performers and ensembles in these recordings, one can hear famed jazz cellist David Baker performing his own music, and the Juilliard String Quartet. Orchestras under Freeman’s direction include the London, Baltimore and Detroit Symphony Orchestras.
A wide range of black composers are represented, spanning centuries and diverse backgrounds. Among those from the deeper past are Guadeloupe-born French composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799), Brazilian José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767–1830) and Cuban José Silvestre White (1835–1918). One also finds historically significant 20th-century Americans such as William Grant Still (1895–1978), Ulysses Kay (1917–1995) and the Pulitzer winning George Walker (1922-2018), plus a handful of notable living black composers.
Altogether these recordings represent but a portion of an important but too-often overlooked part of the classical repertoire, but even within the limits of 10 discs serve as a rich and informative treasury of black classical music history.
Juilliard String Quartet: The Complete RCA Recordings
Sony also released an 11-disc box set that comprises all of the recordings that the Juilliard String Quartet made for RCA Victor between 1957 and 1960, including 4 LPs not previously re-issued on CD, likewise digitally remastered from the original analog master tapes. This collection is a natural follow-up to Sony’s acclaimed reissue of the Juilliard Quartet’s early releases on Columbia’s Epic label.
To play the standard repertoire with the sense of excitement and discovery of a new work and play new works with a reverence usually reserved for the classics” was the mission of the Juilliard String Quartet when it was founded in 1946 by then Juilliard director, composer William Schuman. The Quartet quickly found itself on the forefront of the American chamber-music scene and the beginnings of an exceptionally long and distinguished recording career.
Noted early on for its performances of modern works, the group created a stir when it turned to the Viennese classics with its RCA recordings of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. At the time, the group’s interpretations of that core repertoire seemed outside the mainstream, but such appraisals tend to shift over time; what was then pioneering has become common practice if not predominant. This collection – which also includes the music of Schubert, Dvořák, Wolf, Debussy, Ravel, Berg, Webern, William Schuman and Elliot Carter – helps enlighten 21st-century listeners to a time when the Quartet’s breakthrough performances were delightfully fresh and new. ■