Albany Troy 1295 (2011)
Florence B. Price (1887-1953)
Leslie B. Dunner
Florence B. Price is profiled at AfriClassical.com,
which features a comprehensive
Works List and a Bibliography by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, www.CasaMusicaledeLerma.com.
Dominique-René de Lerma:
Bill McGlaughlin's Black, Brown, and Beige is now at the half-way mark with the fifth program on WFMT's Exploring music. This was largely given over to Florence Price's piano concerto and first symphony, both performed by the Center for Black Music Research's New Black Music Repertory Ensemble (Albany TROY 1295, issued in 2011), conducted by Leslie B. Dunner, the maestro we last encountered with Southside Chicago's production of Still's Troubled island. He had been on the conducting staff of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and later with the orchestra in Annapolis before his move to Chicago. This is a first-rate musician in every respect and a most excellent communicator from the podium. The time is here for him to be engaged as music director. The pianist in the concerto was Karen Walwyn of Howard University, already well known to us from the 2-CD Dark fires, both for Albany Rceords, in which she performs works of Delores White, Roger Dickerson, and Ellis Marsalis, as well as Adolphus Hailstork, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. Perhaps what is less familiar is her work as composer -- Reflections on 9/11, a major work for piano (also available on Albany).
The symphony, Price's first of three, is identified as a work in one movement, while actually it contains three, played without pause. A work of historical importance, it comes on the heels of Still's Afro-American symphony and just before the Negro folk symphony of William Dawson. Disagree with me if you wish, but I found this to be more a collection of what used to be termed "characteristic" pieces, less of a symphonic work than either the Still or Dawson essays.
The piano concerto is a different matter: It really is a concerto and certainly has a place in the canon. Perhaps we are past the point of thinking at least some of the repertoire receives a valid performance only by one of the race. If that is still a belief held, this work was introduced by Margaret Bonds in its Chicago première, and has been revived here by Karyn Walwyn. Well it should be. Now it merits programming without the racial consideration.
Our radio host has been filling out his programs with other genres (and I have long felt he really would enjoy a series of jazz). Odd company, but the Price works shared the hour with James Brown, who was feeling good. Less of a culture shock was the inclusion of baritone Jubilant Sykes, who sang Let us break bread together. This provides the opportunity to mention that Sykes can also be heard in Leonard Bernstein's Mass (Naxos 8.559622-23, from 2009), when he was joined by the Morgan State University Choir, conducted by Marin Alsop. That chorus has expanded its international standing with the masterful conducting of Eric Conway, but he inherited a strong foundation from the days of Nathan Carter, who died in 2004. I ardently lament that those LP recordings back in Nathan's day have not been reissued in CD. Our schools have for a long time made recordings that never were offered to the general public, which were known only locally. This is a priority issue to address.
Also on this fifth program were works by James Europe, with Coleridge-Taylor's Lamentations performed by Tahirah Whittington, 1999 Sphinx laureate, who has since enjoyed an international career. This work, for solo cello, is available on Cedille 80000 087.
Now we await news of what Bill has selected for this last week. When the last program has been aired, let us hear what works you would have included, and don't neglect to let Bill know when you thank him for these two great weeks. And it isn't even February!
Dominique-René de Lerma