Black Renaissance Woman
Works by Bonds, Hagan, Holt, Jackson King, and Price
Samantha Ege, John Paul Ekin (piano)
Lorelt LNT145 63:43 mins
Lorelt (Lontano Records) is a musical salon des refusés set up in 1992 with the aim of promoting important repertoire neglected by major labels. And this is its second recording from pianist and musicologist Samantha Ege, who wears her mission on her sleeve: her discovery of Florence Price set her on the path she is now successfully pursuing, as a champion of forgotten women composers from the early and mid-20th century.
Four of the five composers on this disc were Black and, as Ege points out, they were at the forefront of a movement which had its ancestral roots in slavery and its actual roots in routine Jim Crow oppression. They used their artistry and activism, she says, to articulate visions of freedom for a new age. They operated in places like Chicago’s South Side and New York’s Harlem, and with their concertos and symphonies forced their way into concert halls which had hitherto been a white preserve.
All five were hyper-productive both as composers and performers, but it’s sad that the only extant piece left by the ebullient Nora Holt should be her Joplinesque Negro Dance. Helen Hagan’s Piano Concerto in C minor is an ambitious work which revels in splendid Chopin-inspired effects, but its declamatory mode becomes wearing: we should not over-praise works because of what they stand for politically. Betty Jackson King’s Four Seasonal Sketches are very accomplished salon music.
But the works by Margaret Bonds and Florence Price reflect technical and aesthetic mastery of the first order. Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement starts off in the Beethoven tradition but finally weaves Negro Spiritual tonalities into Romantic chromaticism with graceful ease. And Margaret Bonds’s Spiritual Suite incorporates ‘Wade in the water’ in a gorgeously subtle marriage of styles. Ege’s pianism is delicately inflected throughout.