Joseph Joubert, piano
Chicago Sinfonietta conducted by Paul Freeman
Just as New World’s 3-CD set of works by the forgotten African American composer Julius Eastman ought to rewrite the history of minimalist music, Cedille’s new disc of world premiere recordings by another neglected African American, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004) ought to change our assumptions about the so-called mid-century American romantics. Despite the racially restrictive world of classical music of the 1950s, Perkinson, who studied with Vittorio Giannini at Manhattan School of Music and later with Earl Kim at Princeton, wrote music as searingly beautiful and dramatically powerful as their best work as well as that of other similar minded composers now being rediscovered like Paul Creston or Nicolas Flagello. Rejecting what was probably an unattainable career in academia at the time, Perkinson earned his way by writing arrangements for Harry Belafonte and later Marvin Gaye and even briefly served as the pianist in a quartet led by Max Roach.
A sense of the blues occasionally pervades Perkinson’s remarkable Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings and Percussion. Something of an American-grown response to Bartók, even down to the timpani glissandos of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta whose eeriness undoubtedly helped made Kubrick choose that famous score for the soundtrack to The Shining. Perkinson manages to transform that eeriness into a seeming joie de vivre even though the work was written in response to the possibility of being drafted to serve in the Korean War.