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In the middle of the 20th century, Florence Price was a leading pioneer. As a female songwriter and African-American in an era when neither was widely accepted, she marked a series of historic firsts.
It would be an exaggeration to say that his music was then forgotten. Despite this, the events of the past year have thrown the spotlight back on her, as they have on other African-American composers, and this digital-only release of her first and third symphonies is promised as the first in a series.
Earlier recordings of Price’s symphonies tended to come from lower rank orchestras. Hearing the famous Philadelphia strings sing these noble folk melodies, or its towering brass instruments singing their chorale themes, gives the music a richness and class that we have not often heard before.
Symphony No. 1, first performed in 1933, was Price’s first attempt in a large-scale composition and there are signs of it. The model, as so often in earlier American symphonic works, was Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Anyone who enjoys the open-hearted lyricism of Dvořák will also appreciate Price’s symphony, although the passages between its main ideas are relatively weak.
A few years later, Symphony No.3 reveals a substantial breakthrough, a cut more sophisticated work in many ways, but the emotional warmth of its African-American heritage still shines brightly. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts unreserved interpretations of the two symphonies and the sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra in its element.
‘Florence Prize: Symphonies 1 and 3‘is published by DG