Florence Price: Concerto in One Movement; Symphony in E minor

Karen Walwyn / Leslie B. Dunner / New Black Music Repertory Ensemble

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Florence Price: Concerto in One Movement; Symphony in E minor Review

by James Manheim

The first African-American symphonist was Florence B. Price, who made a living as a music teacher in the South and renewed her schooling after she fled white terrorism in the 1920s and landed in Chicago. She was influential as a piano teacher, but there probably isn't much of a link between the two works heard here and the music of later African-American composers; they were performed in the 1930s but rarely after that. The Piano Concerto in One Movement recorded here, in fact, was lost, with only its piano part surviving; it is played here in a reconstruction by Trevor Weston. Price's music has been revived under the auspices of Chicago's Center for Black Music Research, and scholars have been keen to look for traces of Africanisms in her style. There are some; the finale of the concerto (which has three distinct sections) and the third movement of the Symphony in E minor displays the so-called juba rhythm in a simplified form that could easily have come to Price from any number of popular songbooks. She is more convincing when she is less specific in her African-American references. The symphony's dark but lyrical minor-key melodic idiom, slipping easily into pentatonic scales, is quite compelling. The chief attraction in the concerto is the piano part itself, which suggests that Price was a pianist of considerable skills (impressive given her background). Pianist Karen Walwyn is equal to its challenges, and performances by the New Black Repertory Ensemble under Leslie B. Dunner are clean and idiomatic. Recommended for those interested in the history of African-American classical music in the early 20th century.

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