Two unduly neglected figures are brought back into the spotlight

Curtis Stewart: American Counterpoints

The Strad Issue: April 2024

Description: Two unduly neglected figures are brought back into the spotlight

Musicians: Curtis Stewart (violin) Experiential Orchestra/James Blachly 

Works: Perkinson: Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk; Sinfonietta no.1. Perry: Prelude for Strings; Symphony in One Movement for Violas and Basses; Ye, Who Seek the Truth; Violin Concerto. Stewart: We Who Seek

Catalogue number: BRIGHT SHINY THINGS BSTC-0200

It’s not often you can claim a CD offers true revelations, but that’s the case with this fascinating release featuring US violinist and composer Curtis Stewart. The real discovery is the 1968 Violin Concerto by African-American composer Julia Perry, respected during her lifetime, but seldom encountered in concert programmes today. Stewart’s compelling and quietly authoritative account of the concerto should encourage a far wider interest: it’s a strange, deeply idiosyncratic piece, from its fierce, improvisatory solo opening to a finale that sounds like Magnus Lindberg, the violin often embedded deeply within Perry’s imaginative orchestral textures only to break free for a final, breathless cadenza. Stewart gets persuasive support from the Experiential Orchestra under James Blachly, alive to Perry’s restlessly flickering colours. Her 1961 Symphony in One Movement for Violas and Basses is just as burnished and brooding as its title suggests, in a richly imagined account from the Experiential players, and she subverts a lush, Romantic language with sly harmonic sidesteps in the sumptuous Prelude for Strings.

Stewart opens with a gutsy, freewheeling Louisiana Blues Strut by the marginally better-known Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, another shamefully overlooked 20th-century African-American composer, though the Experiential players could have done with a slightly crisper attack in his intricate, driven Sinfonietta no.1, lively and vigorous though their performance is. Nonetheless, it’s a disc of musical discoveries, conveyed in compelling performances and warm, close sound.