Pianist Josh Tatsuo Cullen (credit: Jiyang Chen)

Cullen brings rediscovered piano music of Florence Price to life in world premiere recordings

CD REVIEW:
Scenes in Tin Can Alley: Piano Music of Florence Price
Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano.
Florence PRICE: Scenes in Tin Can Alley
Florence PRICE: Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman
Florence PRICE: Village Scenes
Florence PRICE: Preludes
Florence PRICE: Cotton Dance
Florence PRICE: Three Miniature Portraits of Uncle Ned
Blue Griffin Records BGR615
Release Date: June 3, 2022
Duration: 50:35

Giorgio Koukl | 6 JUN 2022

Florence Price (1887-1953), recently more and more present in concert halls and on various media, is slowly regaining her position among the musicians of her time. Her voice is unique among American composers and can perhaps be best described as a crossover of Scott Joplin and Claude Debussy with a touch of feminine grace. Listening for the first time to this fresh and profoundly elegant music is definitely a thrill.

Blue Griffin Records (BGR615)

BGR615

All 20 tracks of this disc come from a lucky trove found in 2009 at the composer’s abandoned and dilapidated summer house on the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois. Some piano music also emerged among major works, such as the Fourth Symphony, two violin concertos, and many other scores.

Much of the music on this disc is presented as world premiere recordings. As it was decided to limit the content of this installment to only the newly discovered scores, the CD, at just over 50 minutes, is relatively short. But certainly, a choice had to be made, as Ms. Price has written nearly 70 works for piano only.

Pianist Josh Tatsuo Cullen, who has also written the liner notes, plays this music with considerable commitment and outstanding technical prowess. Sometimes the sound of the piano is on the dry side, probably hindering a better dynamic diversification, which would have been beneficial. The result is nevertheless of extraordinary grace and extremely pleasant.


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Generally speaking, the album tries to follow the chronological order of the seven works presented. The single pieces are all miniatures, ranging from less than a minute to only six-and-a-half minutes.

The first cycle is Scenes in Tin Can Alley from 1928. It consists of three parts called “The Huckster,” “Children at Play,” and “Night.” This music is the less impressionistic of the whole installment, clearly using an American idiom. It is astonishing how many mood changes Ms. Price can put in a few seconds of a single miniature. The rhythmic changes are constant but very natural, obtaining a vivid image of the moment, a characteristic often present in other works.

Florence Price (historical image)

Florence Price (historical image)

Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman, written between 1938 and 1942, has four parts: “Morning,” “Dreaming at the Washtub,” “A Gay Moment,” and “Evening Shadows.”

Debussy could have easily written these preludes except for one specific detail: the harmonic solutions often end in a far more jazzy way than the French master would have dared to do, which is refreshing and highly original. After two quite sad movements, the cycle develops with a Juba-style dance, giving the pianist the opportunity of showing all his technical capacities. The cycle ends with a beautiful crossover of a prelude and the blues.

The next piece, called Clouds, probably written in 1940, is a purely impressionistic fantasy with frequent use of pentatonic scale. Sometimes it has rather textual citations of L’isle joyeuse. It is also the longest piece of the whole disc.

The three Village Scenes (1942) follow: “Church Spires in Moonlight,” “A Shaded Lane,” and “The Park.” The lightness of structure is the most striking feature of this music. The flow is so perfectly balanced that the score seems to be written in a single improvisational moment—definitely another characteristic of Ms. Price.


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The five Preludes (1926-1932) are among the few piano pieces by Price without evocative titles, and their overall structure is quite different. This music is far lighter and would be perfectly in place played in a hall of a grand hotel of the 1930s. It does not pretend to be “classical” music but is simply and joyously playful, bringing a sensation of well-being and calm to the listener.

A Cotton Dance, written around 1940, is the next piece. This music is the most vigorous and virtuosic on the CD. The musical flow is glittering and constantly changing in rhythm, with some surprising twists in tonality. It is an interesting contribution to virtuosic piano literature, which could and should easily enter the repertoire of many pianists.

The CD ends with Three Miniature Portraits of Uncle Ned (1932-1941): “At Age 17,” “At Age 27,” and “At Age 70.”

As the pianist, Cullen, justly remarks in the booklet, the original title was “Uncle Joe,” so there is the suspicion that we are here speaking about a generic figure rather than a real person. The scores are a perfect example of just another capacity of Ms. Price, that of easiness and efficacy in the characterization of her protagonists. She manages to give the listener a clean aural photograph of what she decided to depict with few notes.

This CD can easily be considered a fully successful project, uniting solid pianistic craftsmanship with extremely appealing and never played scores, definitely a winning combination.


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Giorgio Koukl (photo: Chiara Solari)

Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. Koukl has most recently completed recording a second volume of the complete solo piano music of Polish composer Alfons Szczerbinski.
(photo: Chiara Solari)


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