Fantasie Nègre 1-4
Untitled Sketches 1-3
Snapshots, Lake Mirror, Moon Behind A Cloud, Flame
Samantha Ege Piano
All the pieces here except the first Fantasie Nègre were only discovered in 2009, 54 years after the composer’s death, in Price’s summer house in St. Anne’s, Illinois, and so add considerably to the catalogue.
She was quite a phenomenon in her lifetime, although it was only in middle age that her accomplishments were properly appreciated, when in 1933 a symphony by her was premiered by Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That made her easily the best known African American woman composer of the first half of last century. She was never exactly forgotten in the second half but there is no doubt that the political movements of recent years have gone a long way to widening her reputation – rightly.
Price treats her themes from black music in much the same way that Dvorak mines his Czech heritage, always in the background and clear from the shape of the tunes but vehicles for imaginative exploration, rather than just presentation. The Fantasies are the sort of extended essays that Chopin would have called ballades. If there is a European comparison from Price’s time it would be Fauré, especially in the Snapshots, elegant little works that are perfectly titled, with the occasional nod to Rachmaninov. Having said that, Price wears her derivations lightly and her voice is increasingly distinctive as familiarity with it grows.
The writing steers clear of bravura virtuosity, though Flame is testing, and much of it follows a contemplative path through the examination of the material. If there is a downside (and it is a small one) it is that tempi are roughly similar. While this gives the programme unity it also means that the works flow by with little differentiation.
Samantha Ege has studied Price’s music in great depth and it shows. Whereas the music would be new territory to most pianists, she is entirely at home in it. It would be interesting, though, to hear it played by a performer with a more fluid approach. Now and then it feels a little restricted by the bar lines. Nonetheless this is a true pleasure to encounter.