Kirsten Johnson

Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen: Piano Music

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Even if they are not the subjects of important revivals, minor composers deserve a fair hearing every now and then, and performers who champion their neglected works deserve credit for trying out new repertoire. But if one considers the derivative and tentative piano miniatures of late Romantic composer Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen to be an inconsequential discovery, then the performances of his cycles by pianist Kirsten Johnson may seem like a wasted effort. Not that she lets the listener down: her playing is energetic and strong, her expression nuanced and subtle, and her sympathy for the music almost persuasive. Yet Johnson's talents are not enough to make Schulz-Beuthen's tedious, unimaginative music compelling, especially since these album leaves are weak in melody, predictable in harmony, and only mildly interesting for a few eccentricities of rhythm or odd modulations. Whether one dips into the Three Piano Pieces in Serious Style, the Mood-Pictures in Free Waltz Form, the Five Pieces in the Form of a Suite, the Four Piano Pieces in Heroic Style, the Cycle in Sonata Form, or the Farewell Tones, the impression is almost always the same: Schulz-Beuthen plainly emulates Brahms and Schumann in tone and character, but comes off as a pedantic imitator without even a modicum of originality. When heard singly, these pieces seem harmless enough; but when grouped together in sets, they become oppressive and boring for their blandness.

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