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ROTW: Black Renaissance Woman

Lontano Records

Black Renaissance Woman—Samantha Ege piano; John Paul Ekin, piano (Lontano 145)

Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite
Nora Douglas Holt: Negro Dance [aka Nora’s Dance] Op 25/1
Helen Hagan: Piano Concerto in C Minor (two pianos)
Betty Jackson King: Four Seasonal Sketches
Florence Price: Piano Concerto in One Movement (two pianos)
James Manheim at allmusic.com writes “..Black composers tend to be incorporated into concerts and recordings devoted mostly to music by whites or else to focus on a single composer, but the mixture of works here reveals several different solutions to, for example, the problem of how to incorporate African American vernacular influences into a European late Romantic language. The solutions here are entirely different; Margaret Bonds is capable of full-throated blues, while Florence B. Price uses Joplinesque ragtime syncopations to generate an energetic finale to a work that otherwise avoids these influences (her Piano Concerto in C minor and the Piano Concerto of Hagan are transcribed for two pianos). The Negro Dance for piano of Nora Holt is also heavily influenced by Black dance music. Elsewhere, the African American influence is subtler, coming in the form of pentatonic shadings and light syncopations. The album as a whole conveys something of the musical grammars that were available to an African American composer of the time, and Ege's precise readings, neither missing nor overdoing the vernacular element, serve the music well. Another attraction here is the presence of some rarely heard composers whose selections suggest riches yet to be discovered. Bonds and Price are well enough represented on recordings, but Hagan and Betty Jackson King are much less so, and Nora Holt, a famously flamboyant character of the era, is almost never played. This is because many of her compositions were lost, but not all of them were, and it is good to have this sprightly work on recordings. Essential for collections of classical music by African Americans, this album is enjoyable for anyone and suggests new programming directions.”