This is the second volume in Kirsten Johnson’s admirable
survey of the complete piano music of Amy Beach. The first release
has already been reviewed
I see no reason whatsoever to modify my view that this is now shaping up to be
a very fine, if contrastive cycle to that given by Joanne
, whose volumes I reviewed back in 2004.
This particular volume sports a ‘Turn of the Century’ theme and it
spans the 1897 Children’s Album to Eskimos
and the Variations on
Balkan Themes, two important works written in 1904. Moreover it does so with
is a clever and pictorial four movement work. In the first volume
I found Johnson rather quicker than Polk and less inclined to rubati. Here things
are rather different. Polk opens Arctic Night
with a rather gaunter soundscape
and a lot quicker, perhaps hinting at the seeping impressionism of the writing.
Johnson however is fresher in The Returning Hunter
and I do rather prefer
the Guild recorded sound throughout; it’s more lush and cushioning than
the Arabesque set. Honours are about even in Exiles
. Here Johnson is again
slower, and warmer, but Polk still manages to vest the con amore
even at a more direct speed.
The other major work here is the Variations. Polk is a little more leisurely
in the theme itself and in variations I, VII, VIII and the Marcia funerale
which is part of variation VIII. The work owes its origin to the Macedonian-Turkish
conflict of the time, and is a series of variations on four themes with one of
them making multiple reappearances. Johnson plays with real understanding of
the more clement and the more astringent Lisztian elements embodied within it;
she’s especially fine in variation III where she balances delicacy and
declamation with real and rare acuteness.
Op.54 includes the Scottish legend
and the Gavotte fantastique
the latter notable for the tighter rhythms Johnson finds than Polk and for the
salon caprice she enjoys in the music making - a truly fine performance. The
Children’s Album is delightful but very slight; predicated on dance tunes
and rhythms and pleasingly generic. The second, a Gavotte, sounds suspiciously
like the Op.54/2 Gavotte fantastique
but the March is not too martial
and its Music Hall elements also appeal.
With the lovely transcription of Richard Strauss’s Serenade
an undated and brief Moderato to complete the programme we have here another
splendidly performed slice of Amy Beach. Both Polk and Johnson have profound
strengths in this repertory and there will be adherents of both. I prefer Guild’s
sound which may tip things; in any case I very much like Johnson’s playing.
see also review by Dan
Morgan (April 2009 Recording of the Month)