Review of LNT144: Fantasie Nègre - The Piano Music of Florence Price
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph
Among the many African-American composers now entering classical music’s mainstream, few are more fascinating that Florence Price, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1887. Viewed from one angle she belongs in the line of early 20th-century virtuoso composer-pianists. She studied piano and organ at the New England Conservatory, and her piano music has that easy fluency and sumptuous harmonic language of composers like Rachmaninov, though with a particular flavour of its own. Viewed another way she is a great cross-cultural synthesiser, a composer who found a convincing way to bring African, American and European high-romantic and modernist elements together.
It’s an astonishing achievement, much of which could have been lost had a huge stash of Price’s unpublished works not been found in 2009 in an abandoned house in Illinois. A number of scholars and performers are now intent on bringing that legacy to life. One of them is Samantha Ege, a researcher at Oxford University and the performer on this CD. It includes four of Price’s big-boned impassioned Fantasies from the 1920s and 30s, one of which Ege had to reconstruct from scattered manuscript pages found in that Illinois house. Intermingled with these are half-a-dozen shorter, delicately impressionistic pieces.
The opening E minor Fantasie is typical in the way a grand introduction leads to a melody of stoic modal simplicity, in this case the spiritual “Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass.” It undergoes all kinds of virtuoso transformations and yet emerges with its immense sad dignity not just intact but actually magnified, a sure sign of Prices’s tact as well as skill. Ege is adept at revealing the contours of the melody underneath the profusion of Price’s rich harmonies, and moulds the beautifully judged transitions between sections with a sure hand. She’s equally fine in the “picture postcard” pieces dating from the last few years of Price’s life. This recording is a fine introduction to Florence Price's music, but is only a glimpse of a life’s-work we’ve barely begun to appreciate.