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Cecil BURLEIGH (1885-1980)
Music for Violin and Piano

Impromptu (1911) *
Nature’s Voices (1922)
Five Indian Sketches (1913)
Plantation sketches (1916)
Characteristic Pieces (1910)
Six Fancies (1917)
Four Concert Pieces (1920)
Boyhood Recollections (1925)
Spanish Dance (1909)
Cradle Song (1909) *
Zina Schiff (violin)
Mary Barranger (piano)
Cherina Carmel (piano) *
Recorded Warren Studios, University of California, San Diego, March 1998


As with so many talented young Americans, violinist Cecil Burleigh went abroad to study in Berlin with the distinguished Anton Witek. Back home he continued his studies with Emile Sauret in Chicago and embarked on a career as a concert soloist with some success. Gradually however weariness of touring led to an abandonment of his soloistic ambitions and he began teaching and resuming the composition lessons he’d first taken at the Kladworth-Scharwenka Conservatoire in Berlin; his new teacher was Ernest Bloch and for violin, Leopold Auer, in an attempt, thwarted, to resume his career as an instrumentalist. From 1921-55 he was professor of violin, theory and composition at the University of Wisconsin.

Burleigh’s charming little miniatures have fared poorly on disc over the years. I knew his name only through 78s of Toscha Seidel, who recorded the Indian Snake-Dance, Margaret Harrison’s Plantation Sketches disc and some pieces laid down by Heifetz and Sherry Kloss; the excellent Harry Solloway also recorded a couple of genre pieces but other than these the discography is silent. So it’s a warm welcome to this Naxos newcomer. Most of the pieces here are genre, mood or sketches, lasting barely two minutes in the main. The Americana is nicely spiced but equally it’s laced with decorum for whilst some of these pieces demand technique most rely on wry charm and dancing momentum. Some highlights then; the wistful minor section of the 1911 Impromptu and the vibrant, showy bow arm speciality piece Reapers from Nature’s Voice. MacDowell is evoked in To the Warriors from the Five Indian Sketches but From a Wigwam is the most interesting of this set, supple and lyrically interpreted by Schiff, a Heifetz pupil, and Barranger. A Log Cabin is the most distinctive of the tuneful Plantation Sketches and Idyle from the Characteristic Pieces (1910) is more than quietly in thrall to Dvořák. In general the influence is along the Schumann-Dvořák-MacDowell line and no worse for it; there’s plenty of dancing vigour in Yule-Tide from Six Fancies and open-hearted warmth and some swashbuckle in Jim, the piece that concludes the 1925 set of Boyhood Recollections.

Though Burleigh wrote extensively – concertos, symphonies, violin sonatas, quartets and vocal works – only these little character pieces have made any, and even then limited, impression. Born in the same few years as his fellow American fiddlers Francis Macmillen, Albert Spalding and Florizel von Reuter, Burleigh never stood much of a chance on the domestic platform but it’s good to know that his genre bagatelles live on.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Gwyn Parry-Jones


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