Saturday, July 24, 2021 Classical Album Review: American Quintets — Why Has it Taken so Long? [The most intriguing entry here is Price's Piano Quintet]

American Quintets: Amy Beach, Florence Price, Samuel Barber
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective

Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

July 24, 2021

By Jonathan Blumhofer

This disc from the London-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective pairs piano quintets by Amy Beach and Florence Price with Samuel Barber’s haunting “Dover Beach.”

It’s taken a long time — more than seventy years — but the chamber music (at least) of Amy Beach and Florence Price seems to be gaining a toehold in the repertoire. At least that’s one takeaway from the debut recording of the London-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective (KCC), which pairs piano quintets by those two American women with Samuel Barber’s haunting Dover Beach.

The most intriguing entry here is Price’s Piano Quintet. Discovered in 2009 in a cache of scores in an abandoned house in Illinois, no one knows for certain when it was written (though scholarship suggests that it was likely composed around 1935). As in most of her large-scale compositions, the Quintet’s four movements balance Price’s late-Romantic stylistic sensibilities with musical influences from her African-American heritage.

To be sure, the latter inspire some of the Quintet’s finest moments. The slow movement, for instance, with its fervent, spiritual-like harmonic progressions and melodic phrasings, is breathtaking. And the heavily syncopated, gamboling “Juba” movement wants nothing for drive, charm, or freewheeling energy.

In the outer movements, Price’s writing is focused and Romantic. But it’s also a bit strict and, by comparison to the central ones, formally stuffy. That’s not to say the music lacks heart or passion — the first, in particular, offers both in spades — just that its debts to Brahms and Dvorak are more evident than not.

Either way, the Quintet is an inviting piece and this, its premiere recording, should win the score a robust following. The KCC digs into the music throughout, ably illuminating its busy textures and troves of tunes. Tom Poster’s execution of the Quintet’s intensely busy piano part is nothing short of epic. Indeed, this reading feels like just the type of “event” of which Price’s music is so deserving.

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