Kirsten Johnson

Hermann Goetz, Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen: Piano Music

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Texas-born and British-resident pianist Kirsten Johnson has investigated unusual national repertoires of the nineteenth century; she had some success with a disc of Albanian piano music, and here she takes up two composers who, though born in Germany, later spent time in Switzerland. One is a follower, the other a forerunner, making for a pleasing and intelligent pairing. The path-breaking composers of the Romantic era left imitators in their wakes for decades afterward; some of them, like Hermann Goetz, achieved smooth fusions of the styles of their predecessors. The Goetz works here, a set of nine Lose Blätter (Loose Leaves) and another of six Genrebilder, Op. 13 (Genre Pictures), follow Schumann closely but also seem to trace the effect that Chopin had on Schumann. They neither peer into the wild chromatic beyond like Chopin nor cut the sharp personality profiles of Schumann's miniatures, but they are well-wrought, varied, and never dull. The six Genrebilder are accompanied in the liner notes by the single stanzas of German poetry that inspired them. Better still is the six-movement Alhambra Sonata, Op. 34, of Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen, a composer of undoubted talent whose manuscripts were mostly destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden. Though Germany wasn't known for its evocations of distant scenes musically, this work is a programmatic depiction of a trip to see the great Islamic palace at Granada, Spain. If the listener can set aside his or her knowledge of Falla and Albéniz, who did this kind of thing in much more detail, the work, which was well known in its day, will be an intriguing bit of proto-exotica. Johnson has a restrained style whose dimensions fit those of the nineteenth century drawing rooms where this music would have been heard, and she is a young pianist who is sensitive to color and line. The disc will be essential for libraries amassing large collections of piano music, and it's more than listenable for anyone who loves the instrument and its repertoire.

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