Violinist Randall Goosby made a sensational debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra this past summer in Saratoga Springs, New York. For his first appearance on a subscription program at Verizon Hall, Goosby cleaved his considerable talent to the orchestra’s current passion project: the rediscovery and restoration of American composer Florence Price (1887-1953), who has become a touchstone of their repertory in just a few short years. The concert on 6th October featured world premieres of new editions of her First and Second Violin Concertos, which were recorded for future release by Deutsche Grammophon.

Randall Goosby
© Pete Checchia

Written 13 years apart, the two works reflect Price’s culturally omnivorous composition style and wide range of musical influences. The Violin Concerto no. 1 emerges in a surprising stream of neoclassicism, its rippling cadenzas buoyed by echoes of American folk and roots music that carry across a fairly traditional three-movement structure. On first listen, I heard the influence of Dvořák – and not just because the Philadelphians played his Eighth Symphony so spectacularly last week. Like the Czech master, Price melds old world and new in an easily accessible yet endlessly complex musical language, sometimes messy but always engrossing.

Goosby impressed immediately with his fearless florid technique in the deceptively named first movement, Tempo moderato, which was actually quite fast in the hands of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. At times, his sound mimicked a country fiddle, giving respect to Price’s Arkansas upbringing and her seamless melding of folk instruments into the fabric of the orchestral writing. The Andante was taken contemplatively before launching into the spirited Finale: Allegro, which suited Goosby’s plush tone with its richly chromatic writing.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Randall Goosby and the Philadelphia Orchestra
© Pete Checchia

Performed in one movement, the Violin Concerto no. 2 features a solo line that caresses the orchestra rather than fighting it. There is a full-bodied, distinctly American voice to the writing, which Goosby and Nézet-Séguin captured in their performance: Goosby’s playing in the higher register mirrored the transparent woodwind writing, which almost suggested wind blowing through an open field, before turning chestnut-dark as the strings joined in full blast. Nézet-Séguin skillfully balanced the multiple musical interplays of the piece, especially the spiritual-influenced duet between violin and trumpet.

Not content to leave the audience with these discoveries, Goosby and Nézet-Séguin returned to offer Price’s Adoration, transcribed for violin and string orchestra from its original organ setting. As traditional and tonal as her concerti were forward-looking, it proved a perfect cap to an exploration of one of the 20th century’s most multifaceted composers.

Nézet-Séguin bookended the program with two grand statements on European musical virtues. In remarks from the stage, he described Ravel’s La Valse as “opulence verging on decadence” – but here, it emerged with almost impenetrable brawn. I missed the subtle ways the French composer drew attention to the end of the old order through distortion of its most recognizable musical form. The concluding suite from Der Rosenkavalier was more satisfying and no less experimental. In the slight but pointed discontent between the ornamented high strings and the foreboding low ones, you could hear the anxiety of the 20th century creeping into Viennese society.

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