Avalon String Quartet Give Chicago Composers Some Love

This is the kind of release I like. The Avalon String Quartet present works seldom heard. And they’re all works that deserve to be heard — a lot. 

Florence Price had some remarkable achievements to her credit. In the 1930s her works were performed by major symphonies — the first for a Black female composer. Her piano concerto attracted critical attention. But when she died in 1953, her passing was hardly noted. 

Many of her works remained unperformed and unheard. And most of it was considered lost until 2009. That’s when renovations began on her former Chicago home. The workers discovered a large cache of Price’s manuscripts. That collection revived Price’s reputation.

Her String Quartet No. 2 was written in 1935. It was only published after its rediscovery in 2009. It’s a beautifully crafted work. Price effortlessly blends a late-Romantic style with African-American traditional music.

Leo Sowerby was another Chicagoan whose oeuvre also awaits discovery. He composed over 500 works, many of them still in manuscript. His String Quartet in G minor is one such piece. It was written the same year as Price’s second quartet. But it’s a very different composition. 

Price focused on melody and harmony. Sowerby focused on linear development. It’s how the four instruments interact that makes the music. 

The Avalon Quartet performs these works with sympathy and enthusiasm. Their message: this music is a joy to perform, and you should listen. I did, and I agree. 

Also included is Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet. This 1951 shows Price just as talented at polyphony as Sowerby. What interested me was the subject matter. Price didn’t select five Negro spirituals. “Clementine” and “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” are also present.

The Avalon Quartet makes a strong case for these works to be heard. And to be heard more often. Recommended.

Florence Beatrice Price; Leo Sowerby
Music for String Quartet
Avalon String Quartet
Naxos 8.559911

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