Friday, September 6, 2019 "Five Folksongs in Counterpoint" by Florence Price

Florence B. Price (1997-1953)

By Tim Sawyier

Thu Sep 05, 2019

Nexus Chamber Music continues its second annual Chicago residency at Guarneri Hall in the Loop this week. Wednesday night’s concert was titled “Folk Songs in Counterpoint” and, as with its opening night outing, the music making was at a supremely high level even if the thematic links between pieces were occasionally strained.


The concert took its name from the next work on offer: Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by the African-American composer Florence Price (1887-1953).

Price was the first black woman to have her works played by major U.S. orchestras. The five folk settings of the suite heard Wednesday are truly ingenious—why are they not more widely performed, particularly in the city where she died?

The opening “Cavalry” is jazzy and subtly modal, and was highlighted by a soulful pentatonic viola solo from Menees over sul ponticello accompaniment. “Clementine” begins with a straightforward statement of the theme and segues into harmonically intricate variations, and the Nexus players’ attention to the dotted rhythms throughout gave this movement an idiomatic lilt. The opening of “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” seemed to float statically, and the brief “Shortnin’ Bread” was an emphatic exclamation point.

The final movement—“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”—was something of a fantasy on that familiar melody, and evoked Dvorak’s famed “American” Quartet, demonstrating the influence African-American folk music had on the Czech composer during his residency in New York. Price’s work is accomplished enough to stand with her widely known predecessor. 

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