Florence Beatrice Price: Symphonies – No 1 in E minor; No 4 in D minor

Reviewed on Mon 11 Mar, 2019

If debts to Dvořák, William Grant Still and traditional spirituals are obvious, so too is Price’s lyrical facility, ripely buoyant and imbued with vernacular colour.

All but forgotten in the years following her death in 1953 at the age of 63, Florence Beatrice Price’s claim to fame lies in her being the first African-American woman to be performed by a major American orchestra. That was her First Symphony, premiered in Chicago in 1933 and heard here in a rewarding account by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. If debts to Dvořák, William Grant Still and traditional spirituals are obvious, so too is Price’s lyrical facility, ripely buoyant and imbued with vernacular colour. The third movement 'Juba Dance' is a delightful exercise in colloquial humour, engaging syncopation and winning jeu d’esprit, the finale liquid and lithe. A sprightly Juba also features in the Fourth Symphony (1945) which makes its first welcome appearance here on disc. Cast, like its predecessor in four movements, it’s a more accomplished blend of American and European accents sugared and spiced by Price’s own idiom with its distinctive, tune-led feel for her native soil.
–Michael Quinn