Florence Price: Songs of the Oak Solidifies Reputation

This is Naxos’ third release of Florence Price’s orchestral music. And it’s a treasure. Most of the works were part of the cache discovered in 2009. It’s sobering how close these scores came to being lost forever. 

Included here are Price’s two concert overtures, two tone poems, and two works inspired by dance. Price wrote in a mid-century tonal style, enriched by Black music traditions. 

Her two concert overtures were based on spirituals. The source materials transform as the overtures unfold. But at the same time, they never lose their essence or their cultural identity. 

Songs of the Oak is an expressive tone poem that leans towards European traditions. And yet Price’s depiction of forest life seems inspired by Hollywood soundtracks. That’s not a criticism. Price is simply bringing together the elements she needs to tell the story her way. 

The “Colonial Dance” is based on Scottish dances, as filtered perhaps through Appalachia. Price orchestrated her solo piano piece, Three Little Negro Dances, creating the Suite of Dances. The orchestrations give these dances added depth. It’s hard to describe, but the sound of the orchestra is distinctively American.

That speaks to the effectiveness of Price’s orchestrations. Because she’s getting that sound from the quite German Wurttembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen. John Jeter leads the ensemble in some spirited performances. I especially enjoyed the concert overtures and the dances. 

Another essential recording of music by this unjustly neglected composer. 

Florence Beatrice Price: Songs of the Oak
Concert Overtures Nos. 1 and 2
Wurttembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen; John Jeter, conductor

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