Florence Price Symphonies On Par with Dvorak

As pressure mounts for orchestras to diversify their programming, Florance Foster Price has risen in prominence. Price was a composer of color active in the late 1930s and 40s.

Her first symphony, completed in 1932 won a competition and was premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933. Stylistically, the work owes much to Antonin Dvorak and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Dvorak urged American composers to look to their own folk music for inspiration, and Price did so. The third movement replaces the European Scherzo with an Afro-American juba dance.

While Price’s structures follow Dvorak’s classical models, the harmonies and the shapes of the melodies are distinctive and original. And very clearly drew from Afro-American traditions.

Price’s 1945 Fourth Symphony receives its world premiere with this recording. During renovations of a neglected house in Chicago, a cache of papers and manuscripts was discovered. The home was Price’s summer residence. Had the structure been simply leveled, several of her works — including this symphony would have been lost.

The Fourth Symphony opens with “Wade in the Water” and develops the themes symphonically. While Price uses Dvorak as her basic model, this symphony is more adventurous than her first. Price seems surer of her material and more comfortable working with her traditional music sources.

The Fort Smith Symphony, directed by John Jeter does an outstanding job. These are committed performances that show these symphonies in their best light. And they help make the case of adding Price symphonies to the repertoire. Should Price’s Symphony No. 1 replace Dvorak’s 9th? No, but occasionally choosing the former instead of the latter all the time would be nice.

Florence Beatrice Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4
Fort Smith Symphony; John Jeter, conductor

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