Florence Beatrice Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 (CD)

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Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

Florence Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and studied at the New England Conservatory, but it was in Chicago that her composing career accelerated. The concert in 1933 at which her Symphony No. 1 in E minor was premiered was the first time a major American orchestra had performed a piece written by an African American woman. Influenced by Dvorák and Coleridge-Taylor, she drew on the wellspring of Negro spirituals and vernacular dances, full of lyricism and syncopation. The Symphony No. 4 in D minor demonstrates her tight ensemble writing, her distinct sense of orchestral color, her Ellingtonian ‘jungle style’ language and her penchant for the ‘juba’ dance.

Founded in 1923, the Fort Smith Symphony is the oldest orchestra in the state of Arkansas. The orchestra is a per-service professional ensemble drawn from musicians throughout the region. The orchestra performs classics, pops and educational concerts in the ArcBest Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Smith.

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Florence Price:

Symphony No. 1 in E Minor
1. I. Allegro ma non troppo
2. II. Largo, maestoso
3. III. Juba Dance
4. IV. Finale

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor
5. I. Tempo moderato
6. II. Andante cantabile
7. III. Juba Dance
8. IV. Scherzo

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The Classical Music Collector:


There is a strange synchronicity about some CD releases. Having spent six months doing occasional research on the relatively obscure music of Florence Price, I was notified of a forthcoming new release on Naxos featuring two of her lovely symphonies. Price (1887-1953) was the first African-American woman to be acknowledged as a symphonist, and have a work performed by a major orchestra. Black American composers have not yet achieved anything like the level of appreciation they deserve, from Nathaniel Dett to Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, so it is very gratifying to see Florence Price receiving renewed attention. Like her contemporary William Grant Still, Price’s music has a grounding in Dvorak and Spirituals, but her composerly voice has been described as ‘urban vernacular’, with a hint of Duke Ellington. Call it what you will, her music commands attention.

- Chris Dench