Released in May by Wave Theory Records, today I’m going to write about pianist Samantha Ege’s beautiful album Four Women. When I interviewed Ege for my podcast last month, it was abundantly clear that this recording project was the outgrowth of deeply meaningful interactions both with the compositions and the histories of the composers themselves. Ege understands these pieces on a fundamental level, and her rapport with the music comes shining through in her playing.

Florence Price, Sonata in E Minor

A gorgeous, emotive piece that seamlessly incorporates the melodies (or the flavor thereof) of the early African American diaspora (slave songs and spirituals), it is a crime that Price’s Sonata in E minor is not a standard in “music appreciation” classes and piano studios alike—which is my way of nudging any educators who are reading this review.

The first movement (Andante — Allegro) is expansive and symphonic, hinting at Price’s facility in writing for orchestra, while the second movement (Andante) is a lovely setting of an African American folk melody. In both movements Ege displays an exquisite ability to shape the music, both in terms of phrasing and the larger formal sections, always guiding the listener as if through a cherished home.

The third and final movement (Scherzo) is my favorite, partial as I am to big and stormy gestures. The main theme dances like large, splashy raindrops in a downpour and alternates with calmer moments. Ege makes the alternations between the dance and the calm with grace, the two affects self-contained and juxtaposed without any jarring transitions. The peak moment toward the end is satisfyingly dramatic, Ege skillfully stretching the time as she pushes up the volume.

Ethel Bilsland, The Birthday Party Suite

This is the première recording of Bilsland’s Suite, and the story of how Ege came to be the performer to bring this music to the world is one of fruitful happenstance. Playful and adventurous and exceedingly gentle, you can hear in these pieces the foreshadowing of later English film music, such as that of film composer Rachel Portman. I am very much looking forward to see what’s next for Ege’s Ethel Bilsland Project.

Vítězslava Kaprálová, April Preludes

The April Preludes flow organically from Bilsland’s Suite, as they are also little self-contained character pieces, though more elaborate than the Suite. Kaprálová’s Preludes are wonderfully angular and spiky, and you can hear the pathos in Ege’s playing: This is music that draws you in while simultaneously asserting itself against the listener with its chromaticism and changeable textural landscape.

Vítězslava Kaprálová, Sonata Appassionata

Listening to the expansive and complex construction of the first movement of this two-movement sonata it is hard to believe Kaprálová was just 18 years old when she wrote it; even more so when, in the second movement, she inserts a wonderfully written fugue into the theme and variations form (more than once!). It is perhaps this piece in which Ege’s sophistication as a performer shines most clearly, encompassing as it does so many moods and variety of style within its 20 minute duration, all of which Ege executes with stirring confidence.

Margaret Bonds, “Troubled Water”

With rhythmic motives evocative of choppy waters, Bonds’ setting of “Wade in the Water” alternates between turbid and ebullient, capturing the dual essence of the spiritual (waters parting for the Israelite’s escape from Egypt and a pool of healing water). Ege expertly creates these moods while making the melody sing, to the point that I begin to sing along with it in my head.

I must note here also the high quality of the recording; the production is clean and intimate and perfectly suited to Ege’s nuanced performances.

Be sure to check out this album of wonderful and too-often-neglected pieces: they’re in good hands.

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Throwback Thursday to the wonderful Margaret Bonds. This is a powerful performance by Darian Clonts of her “I, Too” from her Three Dream Variations, with text by one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes: