Florence Price (1887-1953)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

Florence Price’s music is currently enjoying a renaissance. It’s good that it has a chance. Yet, from what I have heard of her output, it’s difficult to discern an original voice. The E-minor First Symphony included here is unengaging in its ideas, poorly structured and orchestrated (bombastic at times), and too reliant on the indigenous music of America all around her as well being derivative of Dvořák, no bad model, but there has to be more to any composer’s armoury than sounding like somebody else. The second movement has its attractions but they are lost to repetition and deviation. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a devoted champion of Price’s music (Symphonies 1-3 are on Deutsche Grammophon) and if the remaining two movements danced along merrily, if without any significance (to the Symphony genre), then the Philadelphia players were luxury casting.

The concert opened with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture – spirited and articulate – and especially expressive during nocturnal musings, an abundance of orchestral warmth not getting in the way of detail save a couple of little fanfares near the end were reticent despite Nézet-Séguin gesticulating in the trumpeters direction. Then everything was wonderfully lucid in Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, the Philadelphians sounding every note and nuance with assurance in music that is evocative, sensual, ecstatic, impressionistic if dangerous, and wistful. Lisa Batiashvili’s rich tone and unfailing virtuosity served the intensity and dynamism of the violin part, her refined paintbox of colours and noble phrasing drawing the listener in without denuding the music’s passions, and with Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestra balanced ideally Szymanowski’s spectral scoring registered fully without losing sight of the main soloist.

Encores: with Yannick at the piano, needed for the Concerto, he and Lisa played – I think – Debussy’s Beau soir (a song transcribed), sultry and seductive, and the Orchestra offered further Price (Adoration, arranged for strings from violin and piano) and a Brahms Hungarian Dance, the last of the twenty-one, orchestrated by Dvořák.


Musikfest Berlin 2022: Klaus Mäkelä conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Kaija Saariaho’s Orion & Mahler’s Sixth Symphony [live Digital Concert Hall webcast].