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Uncovered, Vol. 2 – Florence Price

Michelle Cann (piano); Catalyst Quartet (Azica Records)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

F Price
Uncovered, Vol. 2: String Quartets – in G (unfinished); in A minor; Piano Quintets – in A minor; in E minor; Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint; Folksongs in Counterpoint
Michelle Cann (piano); Catalyst Quartet
Azica Records ACD-71346   113:05 mins (2 discs)

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This second issue in Azica’s ‘Uncovered’ series of Black chamber composers presents the known piano quintets and string quartets of Florence Price (1887-1953), spanning late 1920s to 1951. That four are world-premiere recordings signals the less comfortable ‘uncovering’ that, despite becoming the first Black woman to be performed by a major symphony orchestra (Chicago, 1933), Price was marginalised in her lifetime and neglected following her death.

Beautifully performed by the Catalyst Quartet, joined by pianist Michelle Cann for the Quintet in A minor (c1935) and possibly unfinished Quintet for Piano and Strings (date unknown), the works reveal Price’s distinctive Romantic sensibility coming alive in chamber music richly expressive of Black folkloric musical traditions. The quartet Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint (c1947), together with the later Five Folksongs in Counterpoint (1951), teems with vivacious and often poignant contrapuntal invention reflecting Price’s deep religious faith. A fascinating glimpse of an earlier possible stylistic road is afforded by the unfinished String Quartet in G major (poss. 1929) with its second-movement pizzicato swagger – while the E minor Quintet explores a chromaticism steeped in melodic agility.

The A minor Piano Quintet and String Quartet No. 2, both substantial works, show suppleness in formal and thematic thinking, with third movements based on the syncopated Juba Dance. The Quartet’s lovely harmonic ambivalence make it a real revelation.

Steph Power

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