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Opus 1 Feminin
Kathrin Schmidlin (piano)
rec. 2021, Tonstudio Waldenburg, Switzerland CLAVES RECORDS 50-3051 
The start of a journey is always exciting and if a composer's juvenilia are warm-ups and preparations for whatever may lie on the road ahead his or her opus.1 represents the first steps on what one hopes is a long and fruitful adventure. Swiss pianist Kathrin Schmidlin has collected together an attractive and interesting set of opus ones by female composers from the last 200 years; Clara Schumann, along with Chaminade perhaps the most familiar name here, is the earliest composer represented whilst Argentinian Alicia Terzian is the most recent and one of a handful of names her that are completely new to me.
Born in Córdoba, Terzian studied under Alberto Ginastera in Buenos Aires and is vice-president of the International Women's Council of UNESCO and does a lot to promote contemporary music of Latin America. Her Danca Criolla is a sumptuous, syncopated dance in triple time with a romantically lyrical central section that sits well in the company of its predominantly 19th century companions. Clara Schumann's music is being explored more and more though her early Polonaises are a far cry from the rich inspiration of her later Romances for violin or those for piano solo. Harking back to Hummel and Schubert rather than the piano poems that are Chopin's Polonaises they are elegant and virtuosic, impressive calling cards from the 10 year old and the young virtuoso impressed Niccolň Paganini when she played one of them to him in 1829. Luise Adolpha le Beau was a pupil of Clara Schumann; her teachers also included Johann Kalliwoda and Joseph Rheinberger so she has an impressive heritage. In addition to many songs and piano pieces she wrote chamber works, a symphony, two operas and a Concerto and Fantasie for piano and orchestra. Her op.1 consists of three pieces, a Chopin inspired fantasie-stück, a jaunty Lied whose staccato writing and running triplets suggest a Mendelssohn Song without words as does the final mélodie that also has hints of a Schumann song. Schmidlin plays four études by two composers born in 1857; the sparkling Étude printaničre by Cécile Chaminade with its shimmering right hand figurations is a first recording surprisingly – there is still much to explore even amongst such familiar names. The three Études by Mathilde Berendsen-Nathan are fairly straightforward harmonically speaking but tricky in their writing especially the congenial third. The first is a song without words, the melody supported by flowing left hand arpeggios while the second, the most dramatic is a brief chordal study. Berendsen-Nathan was born in Copenhagen where she also studied though she lived her life in Norway and was considered Norwegian. She trained as a pianist but gave up a solo career when she married and concentrated on composition.
Vilnius born Maria Parczewska-Mackiewicz is another forgotten name; the booklet writes that her pianistic work with stylised mazurkas, polkas and waltzes directly followed her Polish predecessor Tekla Bąrdarzewska, composer of the (in)famous Maiden's Prayer, this may well be true but the emotional Berceuse that is played here is worlds away from that piece with its hints of Chopin, Tchaikowsky and early Scriabin. Vítēzslava Kaprálová has been represented by her April Preludes on other discs of female composers that I have collected so it nice to hear her op.1, five pieces from 1931 that move between brooding introspection in the first and the autumnal calm of the second and fourth pieces to the intense fifth piece, a Funeral march that Kaprálová added a year later.
I have to say that my favourite work on this disc is the set of nine pieces written by Hilda Kocher-Klein under the collective title Kobolde – Goblins. Kocher-Klein was born in Stuttgart in 1894 and died there in 1875 and she studied with Joseph Haas to whom she dedicated these pieces. This is from the booklet; I can find little else other than she wrote some songs for viola, alto and piano, one of which is op.104 so she was as prolific as she is forgotten. This is unfortunate as I find these miniatures full of charm, imagination and melody and if these goblins seem fairly gentile they are none the worse for that. The gently questioning melancholy of the fourth is balanced by the scherzo-like third piece and the sixth, a boisterous tarantella. Along the way there is a lullaby and the set closes with a lilting waltz.
Kathrin Schmidlin studied in Zurich with Karl-Andreas Kolly, a pianist who has evidently passed on his passion for the neglected. She brings a wonderful sense of character and wonder to these pieces and is to be praised for introducing us to some engaging music and new names. We know much of the music that appeared in the futures of composers like Chaminade or Kaprálová, brief though that future was in the latter case, but it would be nice to have a follow up album with some mature works by these unfamiliar names. I am already hoping that some enterprising pianist takes up the Concertante works by le Beau. Anyone interested in the byways of piano music will find much to enjoy on this adventurous and delightful release. Rob Challinor
Contents Alicia Terzian (b.1934) Danza Criolla Op.1 Hilda Kocher-Klein (1894-1975) Kobolde, Neun kleine Stücke Op.1 Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) Étude printaničre Op.1 (pub.1876) Mathilde Berendsen-Nathan (1857-1926) Three etudes for piano Op.1 Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927) Fantasie-Stück Op.1 No.1 (1874) Lied Op.1 No.2 (1874) Melodie Op.1 No.3 (1874) Clara Schumann (1819-1896) 4 Polonaises Op.1 (c.1829-31) Maria Parczewska-Mackiewicz (1862-1918) Trois Morceaux No.3 berceuse Op.1 No.3 (pub.1900) Vítēzslava Kaprálová (1915-1940) Five Piano Compositions Op.1 (1931-32)