The Piano Music of Florence Price
Release Date 2021
Catalogue No. LNT144
Samantha Ege (piano)
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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It’s an astonishing achievement, much of which could have been lost had a huge stash of Price’s unpublished works not been found in 2009 in an abandoned house in Illinois.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.
Michael Andor Brodeur, WASHINGTON POST
Elsewhere in delicate restorations is a newly restored piece of music history. In 2019, the pianist, musicologist and Florence Price scholar Samantha Ege (currently Lord Crewe junior research fellow in music at Lincoln College, University of Oxford) visited the Florence Price archives at the University of Arkansas, determined to locate the composer’s four “Fantasie Nègre” solo pieces for piano, never published in Price’s lifetime. “The histories of Black women composers from the past are often such a challenge to recuperate,” Ege tells me in an email, “because of the lack of publishing opportunities in their time, the scant documentation of their achievements, and their absence in institutional archives.” The resultant stunner of a collection, “The Piano Music of Florence Price,” collects (for the first time) all four Fantasies, as well as a trio of untitled sketches and another cluster of “Snapshots” — with all but the first of the Fantasies drawn from archives discovered in 2009 at Price’s summer home in St. Anne, Ill. These Fantasies capture Price at her most expressive, and this performance finds Ege at her most intuitive, especially when it comes to the Third, which Ege reassembled from its two extant pages and loose pages that beckoned to her from a different key. “The twists and turns that I had tried to make sense of in my head when I was in the archives came together once I sat at the piano,” she says. Similarly, Price’s music — its pride, elegance, folk echoes and blue hues — fills some essential gaps in the story of American music.
Clive Paget, MUSICAL AMERICA
An insightful survey of works by Florence Price is one of four new albums exploring nearly a century of solo piano music by American composers. Born in 1887 in Little Rock, Price trained at the New England Conservatory before migrating to Chicago in 1927. In 1933 she made history as the first Black woman to have a symphony performed by a major U.S. orchestra when the Chicago Symphony premiered her Symphony No 1.
Pianist and musicologist Samantha Ege has based her album around the four pieces that Price termed Fantasies Nègre, a rhapsodic form that incorporates tunes and moods reflective of her African heritage. All are skillfully crafted and tuneful works in the bluesy key of E minor with “Fantaisie Nègre No. 1” quoting the spiritual “Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass.” The other three were only rediscovered in 2009 and, though less direct, hint at African American traditional melodies; they call for a virtuoso technique suggestive of Price’s musical upbringing as part of a world still in thrall to German Romanticism. Ege’s manual dexterity is more than up to these often-demanding works, each of which weighs in at a meaty ten minutes. The disc also includes three later pieces dubbed “Snapshots,” which echo the composer’s love of the French Impressionists, and three amiable untitled sketches. Price, who died in 1953, has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. This disc should add to her growing reputation.
Andrew McGregor & Natasha Loges, BBC RADIO 3 RECORD REVIEW
"A real landmark achievement of combining scholarship and musicianship working on Florence Price."
Listen to a snippet of the programme here:
Hannah French, BBC RADIO 3 RECORD REVIEW
Listen to a snippet of the programme here: