As one listens to Florence Price’s enchanting collection of piano pieces contained in Josh Tatsuo Cullen exquisite release Scenes in Tin Can Alley: Piano Music of Florence Price (BGR615) for the Blue Griffin Records label, one is vividly reminded of compositions similar in spirit: Heitor Villa-Lobos’ collection of eight miniatures for piano A próle do bébé…Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen… Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite… Modeste Mussorgsky’s Nursery Songs… all works spanning different eras and styles, all melodic, all Romantic in nature, even if not in compositional technique, yet all masterful depictions of all that is pure and unspoiled in life and music.
In the 1928, three-part Scenes in a Tin Can Alley that gives the album its title, and in the subsequent Village Scenes, written in 1942, in the Three Miniature Portraits of Uncle Ned, a work begun in 1932 and completed nine years later, in the lively Cotton Dance (Presto), penned circa 1940, and in the poignantly unassuming Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman, composed between 1938 and 1942, the masterful yet largely and unjustly ignored up until now Florence Price (1887 – 1953) amply demonstrated how a female artist of color could survive against all odds in a racist society and ultimately triumph even if posthumously, thanks to talent and dogged perseverance.
Florence Price mines the quotidian, the folksy, the humorous, the quintessentially Black in rhythms and in melodies, even as she straddles the American and the European, the classical and the jazzy, the urban and the bucolic, the heartfelt and the soberly objective, in music that not for a moment lapses into the imitative or sentimental or patronizing, yet always remains imbued with intense emotion and zest.
Fully and self-effacingly at the service of the music, pianist Josh Tatsuo Cullen displays a commanding technical arsenal coupled to elegant musicality and profound and evocative sensitivity in a lovingly curated and annotated album that ranges in its selections from the rhapsodic to the dance-like, from the brief in duration 37-second “Gay Moment” to still succinct six-minute-short pieces, to each of which he gives in each of twenty tracks in an hour-long recording, his detailed and utmost care.
We salute Josh Tatsuo Cullen, a young artist who shuns the flash and dash of many of today’s careers in Classical music, as he quietly and fastidiously explores instead the gems that can be found off the numbingly repetitive beaten path.
Rafael de Acha © 2022