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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Florence Beatrice Price, Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor, Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

The music of Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) comes to us now in this timely release of her Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor (Naxos 8.559827). She was, as we read on the jacket blurb, the very first Afro-American woman to have a work performed by a major American orchestra, with the premiere of her first symphony in Chicago in 1933. Perhaps most importantly her music sounds every bit as relevant today as it must have sounded then.

So we have in this program that very symphony that filled the air of the concert venue in Chicago, the 1932 Symphony No. 1 and to confirm her inventive talent and add to our appreciation we have the World Premiere recording of the Symphony No. 4 from 1945.

The jacket to this CD notes her affinity with Dvorak, and one might note in the First Symphony certainly the influence of his Symphony "From the New World," and understandably the treatment he gave to the spiritual "Going Home." You hear that a bit in the course of the First, but then you hear also Afro-American "folk" strains appearing in various very appealing ways, and at times scales in minor modes that are not divorced from traditional Afro-American lifeways.

The Fourth is the slightly more remarkable work and it shows further development and a sureness of compositional objectives that the First has too but we hear even more of it by 1945. It is remarkable that this is a First Recording at this late date, but then we know how much there is yet to discover out there and should be happy that this is now available to us. As you listen you will recognize the "Wade in the Water" theme, which is nicely interwoven into a symphonic matrix that sings out lyrically and glowingly.. The Third Movement "Juba Dance" again returns to a traditional form that the first addresses as well, but this time with perhaps even more aplomb.

After quite a few listens I can most certainly vouch for these performances by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. And I come away from it all with a firm and heartening conviction that Florence Beatrice Price is a composer of world-class stature whose music in this program sounds timeless and as classic now as it must have sounded when she first wrote it. Heartily recommended.

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