The transportation of "Deep River" by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor begins with simple eloquence, the way Dvorak might have handled it, with the solo piano emulating a singing voice. The second time around, the piano comments on the melody powerfully and brilliantly, as Liszt might have done. Then it returns to simplicity, heightened by emotional fervor, for the conclusion.
Last night at the National Gallery, this music (the 10th of Coleridge-Taylor's "Twenty-Four Negro Melodies") shared a program with Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata and Liszt's Ballade No. 2 in B minor. It could hardly be called the greatest music on such a program, but as played by pianist Raymond Jackson of Howard University, it seemed completely at home with these masterpieces. So did the music of two other black composers: a tarantella attributed to the Chevalier de St. Georges and a scherzo by the contemporary composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.
The tarantella is a simple, busily melodious piece, pleasant for its brief duration and interesting as a reminder that black composers of classical music date back at least to the time of Haydn. Perkinson's playful scherzo is in the neo-romantic style that is now revitalizing classical music and attracting new audiences. Loose-knit in form with a wealth of thematic material, a bit of perpetual motion and some stormy dramatic climaxes, it makes me want to hear more work by this prodigally inventive composer.
Jackson played impressively throughout, with fine contrapuntal clarity in the Bach, sinewy elegance in the Beethoven, fire and lyricism in the Liszt. He sometimes sounded as though he were over-pedalling, as pianists of his power usually do in the National Gallery, but the sound had a fine clarity in its radio broadcast, which I sampled for comparison. The sound should be better tonight in the Kennedy Center, when he performs with the brilliant classical saxophonist Reginald Jackson and other Washington musicians in a benefit concert for Wolf Trap.