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Jean Tews: Composer Masterworks Volume 1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzi – Op. 116 No. 4 in E Major [4:39]: Op. 118 No. 6 in E-Flat Minor [5:56]: Op. 76 No. 4 in B-Flat Major [2:22]
Waltzes, Op. 39 [24:55]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in B-Flat Minor, Op 9 No. 10 [6:23]
Waltz in E Major, Brown Index 56 [3:31]
Berceuse, Op. 57 [5:10]
Étude in F Minor, Op. 25 No. 20 [2:09]
Étude in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 25 No. 70 [6:02]
Prelude in D-Flat Major, Op. 28 No. 15 [4:43]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs Without Words, Opus 62 No. 1 - Andante expressivo [3:00]
Songs Without Words, Opus 53 No. 3 - Presto agitato [3:52]
Jean Tews (piano)
rec. 1988-91, London, Ontario
JEAN TEWS PIANO JTP001 [78:53]

Jean Tews (née Hamilton) was born in Windsor, Ontario in 1929 in relatively impoverished circumstances. Awarded a scholarship to Toronto Conservatory of Music she was tutored by Lubka Kolessa and studied alongside Glenn Gould and Mario Bernardi; she was considered a more promising student than Gould. Her career, however, did not flourish. Her first marriage was profoundly unsuccessful – the Tews website refers to it as ‘abusive’ – and she seems to have preferred to paint, another of her great loves, when living in Germany with her second husband, Lothar Tews. After successful treatment for breast cancer there, they moved back to London, Ontario in 1988 where she bought a Kawai EX Concert Grand piano, built a recording studio in her home, and between 1988 and 1992 recording a swathe of repertory.

After the sessions she went back to Germany to perform and promote the music, but her cancer returned, and she died in Germany in 1993. It’s due to the tenacity of her brother, Gavin Hamilton, that these recordings have now been made available in six volumes and are available via the website devoted to her memory (www.jeantewspiano.com). One is devoted to the Goldberg Variations, another to Bach concertos and suites, one to Mozart sonatas and fantasias, to Beethoven sonatas, and one to a disc of Schumann, Schubert and Ravel, in addition to the volume under review.

She plays three Brahms Intermezzi, one apiece selected from Opp.78, 116 and 118. The impression made is of a sensitive and thoughtful performer. Her pedalling is apt and light, and she is disinclined to saturate the Intermezzi; textures are clear in the E major and the central section of the E flat major is well sprung rhythmically and lively. By far the greatest part of her Brahms to have survived is a complete recording of the Op.39 Waltzes. Woe betide you if you want to sample, as they’re singly-tracked but you can certainly enjoy 25-minutes of lively, refined and elegant playing. There’s real affection for the pieces and astute characterisation; lively, slightly understated in places, but full of healthy and buoyant playing.

Her brief Chopin sequence reveals another composer love of hers. She plays the Waltz in E major with thoughtfulness and doesn’t descend to bombast. The process of recording in her own studio led to a series of naturally musical performances if this volume is an accurate reflection. Her two Etudes are not world shattering, rather interior reflections, and the Mendelssohn brace draws further on the expressive balance of her playing. Unless my ears are deceiving me, she murmurs along at a few places throughout the recital, though not as avidly as her erstwhile Conservatoire contemporary, Gould.

This has clearly been a labour of love and has enshrined in perpetuity the necessarily compact recorded legacy of a pianist who bravely battled vicissitudes to demonstrate her musical gifts.

Jonathan Woolf



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