For decades the American composer Florence Price (1887–1953) was a footnote in music-history books. After a renewal of interest in women and minority composers in the past two decades and the 2009 discovery of a cache of Price’s music in a dilapidated Illinois house, a very welcome Price revival has begun.
On first hearing, Price’s debt to the symphonic style of Antonín Dvořák is unmistakable in the syncopated pentatonic melodies, folk-song allusions, idiomatic use of woodwind and brass tone-color combinations, and even the chord progressions. But there’s much more to Price than this: Within the conservative four-movement plans of both symphonies are references to African-American spirituals and dances, including the Juba Dance that gives the title to both third movements, Ellington-style blues, and fragments that suggest the organ repertoire Price herself performed professionally.
The result is a uniquely American polystylism that concertgoers should know about. With this recording, John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony of Arkansas make a significant contribution to the Price renaissance. It’s an ambitious project, but the handful of slight imperfections in the ensemble don’t detract from the vigorous conviction of Jeter’s interpretation. I hope this disc will inspire other conductors to perform and record Price’s symphonies, not only as a more diverse alternative to Dvořák’s Ninth, but as great works in their own right. —MW
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4
Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter, cond.