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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Florence PRICE (1887-1953)
Orchestral music

The Oak (c.1934)
Mississippi River Suite (c.1934)
Symphony No.3 in C minor (1940)
The Women's Philharmonic/Apo Hsu
Recorded at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California (no date provided)
KOCH INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS 3-7518-2 HI [69.58]


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Florence Price was an African-American women composer of no mean talent, and this disc goes at least someway to bringing her the level of recognition that, on the musical evidence contained herein, is long overdue. The idiom is, I suppose, on the conservative side for its era (as is that of similar male figures like Still and Dawson) but anyone with a taste for late romantic music, in general, and perhaps the "American" works of Delius (beyond the usual Beecham, I would recommend David Lloyd Jones' bargain Naxos disc, which includes a couple of rarities) and Dvořák, in particular, should feel quite at home with it.

The Oak is a twelve minute tone poem which is probably the least characteristic piece on this disc, in that it shows the least reference to African-American folk music. It is nevertheless highly listenable. However, I would say that Price really comes into her own on the remaining two works. The Mississippi River Suite is based very much on the spirituals and folksongs of the black population of America's south, including Go Down Moses, Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen and the immortal Deep River. The latter, in particular, never fails to move me whether played, as here, in orchestral guise, arranged for choir by Michael Tippett or in Jascha Heifetz's simple version for violin and piano accompaniment. My main criticism of this piece, or rather this recording of it, is that it is twenty seven minutes long with distinct if connected sections yet has no separate cue points provided.

The concluding Symphony No.3 was written six years after the other works on the disc and it does show in that it is more concentrated in form, although it shares many of the inspirations of the Mississippi Suite. It also contains one of Price's famous Juba movements, a real upbeat, syncopated experience, not far removed from the likes of Joplin or Gershwin. Florence Price has not only been championed on this disc recently. Those who are collecting Naxos American Classics may know that John McLaughlin Williams, who conducted the Carpenter, McKay and wonderful H.K. Hadley discs, is also a devotee. Let's hope Naxos have a volume of Price's music planned as well. Finally, I should mention the excellent performance of The Women's Philharmonic under Apo Hsu. This orchestra is not only a laudable idea, it is also a great success in practice and happily the recording here does them full justice.

Neil Horner


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