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Florence PRICE (1887-1953)
Fantasie Negre
Fantasie Negre No 1 in E minor (1929) [10:04]
Fantasie Negre No 2 in G minor (1932) [8:13]
Three Untitled Sketches [6:34]
Fantasie Negre No 3 in F minor (1932) [9:14]
Snapshots (1949-1952) [9:43]
Fantasie Negre No 4 in B minor (1932) [10:06]
Samantha Ege (piano)
Rec. 2020, University of Surrey PATS Studio, UK
LORELT LNT144 [53:56]

I heard my first music by Florence Price just a few months ago when a movement of her Sonata in E minor appeared in a collection of piano music by female composers (Grand Piano Records GP844) so I am glad to have this opportunity to get to know some more of her music for the instrument. As the title suggests the main meat of the recital is dedicated to her four Fantasie Negre; Samantha Ege says in her informative notes that Price considered the word negro as descriptive of the African part of her background and in using this description in the fantasies she is articulating something of her struggle as a black woman making her mark in the classical world.

Surry-born Samantha Ege, or more fully Dr. Samantha Hannah Oboakorevue Ege is a musicologist and pianist. Florence Price was the subject of her PhD and she recorded the Piano Sonata in E minor in full on her previous CD (Four Women available at wavetheoryrecords.com). Her research took her to the manuscripts found at Price's summer home and among those she discovered the additional three Negro fantasies – Nos 2 to 4 – to add to the existing fantasy in E minor. The Untitled Sketches and Snapshots were also found amongst this collection of manuscripts.

The first of the four Fantasie Negre, the E minor fantasy, was written in 1929, premiered by its dedicatee Margaret Bonds and played by Price and Bonds in a two piano version accompanying a ballet in 1932. It is in the form of a set of variations based on the spiritual Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass, the melody woven about with decoration, sometimes grand and bold, sometimes dark and brooding. This is the pattern for all four of the fantasies, the melody set within a harmonically and imaginatively rich tapestry of keyboard textures. Beyond this Price lets fantasy reign; the first swells to grand gestures throughout but ends quietly and calmly, the second has a clear more upbeat ending, the third's textures are sparser and seem to concentrate on more restrained moods right through to the satisfyingly peaceful major key ending whilst the fourth is the most overtly virtuosic of the four, contrasting a sublime lyrical central section with folk-inspired outer sections. Apart from the spiritual in the first fantasie the melodies all appear to be by Price herself but she is skillful in creating tunes that sound like they could be folk melodies or spirituals and a sense of unity flows through all four, possibly because they were all written within a short time of each other.

The undated Untitled Sketches are beautiful little miniatures. The first is reminiscent of Edward MacDowall in its pastoral lyricism. The second is a short jaunty scherzo, skipping and tripping whilst the third, in 5/4 time has a restless melancholy to its flowing melodic figuration. The Snapshots were placed together as a suite by Price in 1952, the year before her death. They encompass water, air and fire in their pages and while the harmonic style is still very tonal, a Debussian impressionism can be heard in the whole-tone passages of the descriptive Lake Mirror or the enigmatic Moon behind a cloud. Flame is a more vigorous unsettled piece with occasional hints of Russian romanticism mixed with its impressionist strokes.

Samantha Ege has done sterling work reconstructing the unfinished third fantasy from the available manuscripts and it is to be hoped that more gems can be found amongst Price's piano output. The piano sound is captured well and Samantha Ege plays with a marvellous sense of style and flair, capturing the grand romantic spirit contained within these works.

Rob Challinor



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