Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quintet. Fantasy for String Quartet. Elegy. Fantasy Piano Quintet
Catherine Dubois (pn); Rasumovsky Qrt
NIMBUS 6182 (76:45)
James Friskin (1886–1967) was another of those composers who learned their craft at the feet of the great Charles Villiers Stanford at London’s Royal College of Music. Stanford was impressed by the young man’s talent both as a pianist and composer, and for years after Friskin’s matriculation Stanford kept a framed copy of a teenage photograph of Friskin in his office.
Friskin’s reputation as a pianist apparently preceded him wherever he went. In fact, he was just 28 (!) when Frank Damrosch extended the young man an invitation to be a founding member of New York’s Institute for Musical Art, now the Juilliard School of Music. When the Second World War erupted, the English violist and composer Rebecca Clarke was also stateside and, like Friskin, chose to remain here during the hostilities. The two were acquainted from their days at the Royal College of Music and in September 1944 they were married and lived out the remainder of their years in an apartment in upper Manhattan.
First and foremost, Friskin was a pianist and one of incredible ability; he was the first pianist to give a complete performance of Bach’s
in America. Half a century ago, the great Myra Hess commented, “I am very happy to have this opportunity of paying tribute to a great teacher and profound musician. The 45 years during which James Friskin has worked on the faculty of Juilliard must be a great source of pride on both sides and the influence of his dedicated teaching must have had an immeasurable effect on the musical life of this country.”
But years before Friskin’s immeasurable effect, he had begun to carve a niche for himself as a composer in his native England. The works on this disc were composed over a five-year span, from 1907 through 1912. The earliest is the Piano Quintet, cited by Walter Wilson Cobbett in his
Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music
as one of the most brilliant opus 1s in existence. It was composed just two years after Friskin began his studies with Stanford. Two years later Friskin crafted the Fantasy String Quartet in the style of music that would have been submitted to the annual chamber music competition instituted by Cobbett. Many British composers who were active in the first part of the 20th century (Vaughan Williams, Bridge, and Ireland among them) wrote in this style: a work of modest duration—12 to 20 minutes—with linked but contrasting sections. Conceived in a similar manner, the Fantasy for Piano Quintet was born the following year, and the Elegy comes from 1912. In addition to the music on this compact disc, Friskin composed two string quartets before his study with Stanford. Years on, Friskin would shrug off his youthful compositions, dismissing them as being old-fashioned.
Well, old-fashioned or not, they are indeed impressive and to saddle them with a word such as “insignificant” would be making a grave error. While they do show a young composer in search of his own voice, there is nothing amateur about the music or the performances. Intonation, ensemble, dynamics, and shading are spot-on, and energy abounds from the first note to the last. The sound is clean and nicely focused as well.
The Rasumovsky String Quartet, alone and in partnership with Catherine Dubois, offers us truly revelatory performances of heretofore unknown repertoire that deserves a place in the annals of British music.
I enjoyed this disc immensely!
FANFARE: Michael Carter
Works on This Recording
Phantasy for Piano Quintet by James Friskin
Catherine Dubois (Piano)
Rasumovsky String Quartet (UK)
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