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Price, Dvorak & Giddens: But Not My Soul Ragazze Quartet

Price, Dvorak & Giddens: But Not My Soul Ragazze Quartet

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Ragazze Quartet perform works by two female composers Rhiannon Giddens (*1977) and Florence Price (1887-1953), combined with the ‘American’ String Quartet No. 12 by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). Florence Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized for her symphonies, yet her music was forgotten for many years. Her String Quartet No. 2 is a mix of European romanticism, her ‘Southern’ roots, the emerging blues and African-American spirituals.

The title of the album derives from a song Rhiannon Giddens wrote after seeing a 19th-century advertisement for a 22-year-old female slave whose 9-month-old baby was also for sale, but 'at the purchaser’s option'. One of the lines of the song is: "You can take my blood. But not my soul." The string quartet arrangement was made by Jacob Garchik in 2016, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet’s ‘50 For The Future’ project.

“This album is a tribute to composers who, despite opposition, have always remained true to their soul. Our own souls are not directly related to the work songs of African slaves, Czech folk music, or African-American spirituals. But we want to contribute to making the voices, souls and music heard.”


But Not My Soul is the ninth album Ragazze Quartet (violinists Rosa Arnold and Jeanita Vriens-Van Tongeren, violist Annemijn Bergkotte, cellist Rebecca Wise) has recorded for Channel Classics, and the group has...received acclaim for its performances and collaborations.

The story of Price's rescue from obscurity is now familiar...her ongoing rediscovery continues. Though she wrote almost 400 pieces for orchestra, chamber ensemble, and piano, as well as art songs and arrangements of spirituals, most of the compositions by the Little Rock-born Price were unpublished at the time of her 1953 death. The discovery in 2009 of an abundance of lost pieces was instrumental in seeing her music undergo its current renaissance. The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor presented [here] was not performed in her lifetime and first published in 2019. Characteristic of her writing, there is European classicism as well as lyrical themes drawn from African American spirituals and folk songs.

After the opening “Moderato” arrests the ear with a chromatic ostinato in the second violin and a less ominous theme in the first, the music swells with a lyrical outpouring before a theme emerges indebted to negro spirituals and then episodes of urgency and yearning. After entering with a ghost-like delicacy, Ragazze's rendering grows ever more luminous and expansive, even at tempestuous moments suggesting kinship with Mahler.

“Andante cantabile” is distinguished by a plaintive melody that's presented in a rocking motion, the overall feel gentle, serene, and warm. Ragazze enlivens the earthy material...with fiddle-like inflections and bluesy phrasing. “Finale: Allegro” drives the work home with muscular force, rousing dance elements again part of the mix and a calming Andantino surfacing in the middle.

The resilience theme implicitly associated with the Price work extends to the two others on But Not My Soul. The worlds of Price and Antonín Dvorák might seem far apart, but there is, as Ragazze itself argues, kinship between them. It's easily explained: the Czech composer wrote his String Quartet in F Major Op. 96, No. 12—aka the “American”—in the United States, where he'd been invited to research original American music and discovered a treasure trove of material among the black population. Elements thereof materialize in the string quartet and in doing so collapse the temporal and geographical divides between the composers. The concluding piece is At the Purchaser's Option, a Rhiannon Giddens song Jacob Garchik recast for the Kronos Quartet as a string quartet arrangement. She wrote the song after seeing a nineteenth-century advertisement for a young female slave whose nine-month-old baby was also for sale, but “at the purchaser's option” (key lyrics: “You can take my body / You can take my bones / You can take my blood / But not my soul”).

Written about a dozen years after Dvorák's eleventh string quartet, his 1893 “American” enraptures immediately with a singing melody in the opening allegro that establishes an outdoorsy character. The languid passage that follows deepens the idyllic tone before the violist and violinist again pass the opening melody back and forth. While peaceful moments do re-emerge to amplify the romantic tone, the movement largely exudes energetic uplift and hope. The melancholic sorrow of the theme in “Lento” conjures the image of plantation workers singing to ease their burden; animated with joy by comparison are “Molto vivace,” whose fluttering violin figures could pass for birdsong, and robust “Finale—vivace ma non troppo,” which moves at an at times furious clip. Once again, the Ragazze members infuse their playing with dynamism and vibrancy as they bring Dvorák's material to life, and their high-energy execution of the final movement is impressive. At album's end, pizzicato, percussive knocks, and blues-fiddle flourishes make At the Purchaser's Option the memorable set-closer it is. Its tone is not as sombre as one might expect given the story that inspired it, but it's no less engaging for that.

-- Textura

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 08, 2024

  • UPC: 723385457244

  • Catalog Number: CCS45724

  • Label: Channel Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Antonin Dvorak, Rhiannon Giddens, Florence Price

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ragazze Quartet