Friday, April 8, 2022

concert review: Catalyst Quartet

Up in the City, this was the last concert in the Catalyst Quartet's series of the music of Black composers. I missed the previous concert because of the omicron wave, but I was particularly happy to get to this one, because it was an all-Florence Price concert. Not only that, it was all little-known works, all of which this group has recorded, but one of which they said neither they nor anybody else had ever performed in concert before this evening.

Two works for string quartet and two piano quintets with Michelle Cann, who proved most voluble when introducing the first work. When she begins by saying that Florence Price was born in Little Rock in 1887 and her father was a dentist, settle back, you're in for a long story.

The Piano Quintet in A Minor was written circa 1935 and fits the pattern of Price's other big works of the period. Four movements, starting with an earnestly Romantic, somewhat Dvorak-like, deracinated opening movement, followed by a gorgeous slow movement with a melody along the lines of African-American spirituals, then a lively Juba dance (again an African-American folk style), concluding with an equally lively but more deracinated and Dvorak-like scherzo.

The other piano quintet, which is in E Minor, is rather different. Three movements (possibly it's unfinished, but it doesn't sound so to me), the first much tougher and more irregular than other Price works I've heard, the Andante and concluding Allegretto more normal for her, but all of them very brief, which is unusual, for Price is normally a rather expansive composer.

The String Quartet No. 1 in G was unusual the other way around. It's definitely unfinished, having just two movements in the form of the normal first two. This time it was the first movement which was normal Price, typically agreeable. The second movement, instead of covering a single extended melody, was sectional with some repeating sections, of contrasting character, of which the most striking was the stealthy melody over a creepy walking pizzicato line from the cello.

The fourth work was Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, not to be confused with the better-known Five Folksongs in Counterpoint, although catalogs often do, and the quartet said that until they saw the score they weren't sure if this was a different work or not. There's four songs here, of which I recognized two. I'm just reproducing the spellings Price gave them when I say that the two are "Little David Play on Yo' Harp" (which I know as "Little David Susskind, Shut Up," because what I know it from is an Allan Sherman album) and "Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho" (which I know as "Joshua Got a Bottle of Geritol," same reason). In both cases, playing it "in counterpoint" means using the opening phrase of the song as a fugue theme and running the piece out from there.

For dinner beforehand, I tried out a little Japanese-Korean restaurant that I ran across on my previous visit when I wasn't able to get off the bus until the next stop after the concert hall. I was curious enough to check the menu online and this time went back deliberately. It's mostly sushi and sashimi, which are outside my eating range, but they do have a decent menu of cooked food as well. I was a little alarmed when they told me the Korean-style fried chicken appetizer was five pieces, but it turned out that meant five small boneless strips, not five big pieces, so I could have ordered with it more than a plate of gyoza. But those chicken strips, besides being crispily fried, were inside fabulously moist and tender. I'll have to come back and try a more serious meal here.

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