DREAM IMAGES / DEBUSSY: Images Oubliées. CRUMB: Makrokosmos I: Dream Images. RAVEL: Miroirs. SCRIABIN: Préludes, Op. 16. V. SCHMIDT: Cave Obscure / Josefa Schmidt, pno / TYXart TXA 19128
This is one of those CDs where I was predisposed to like the artist even before I listened to her. Although she is a young woman, born in 1998, Josefa Schmidt does not appear on the front cover, back cover or inside photo as anything but a serious musician. Her hair is not coiffed by a master stylist and covered with hair spray. She is not wearing a ton of makeup, but only a little light lipstick. She has her glasses on. In short, she is not trying to present herself as eye candy, and in this day and age this is exceedingly rare.
The only thing I was concerned about was the theme of the album. I’m not a fan of soft, dreamy music as a rule, and yes, several of the pieces here fit that bill, but at least they were written by famous impressionist composers of the early 20th century for the most part. Debussy’s Images Oubliées, Ravel’s Miroirs and Scriabin’s Op. 16 Préludes are all given complete on this disc, but the selections are broken up and presented out of order, which doesn’t concern me.
Schmidt was wise to open the program with the third and most energetic piece in the Debussy set, “Quelques aspects de Nous,” which she plays with wonderful, sparkling energy. She has both clean articulation and a fine grasp of the music’s style. She also plays “deep in the keys,” which suits this music quite well. She then follows this with “Dream Images” from Crumb’s Makrokosmos I, a mood piece with a difference in that it is bitonal though it sets a distinctly otherworldly mood (and incorporates a bit of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu). We then get the first piece, the “Nocturne,” from Ravel’s Miroirs. By this point, I had come to realize that Ms. Schmidt is a pianist who approaches all music, regardless of era or style, in the same way, with both enthusiasm and great insight into both the work’s mood and structure. She is an outstanding pianist.
Scriabin’s Chopin-influenced Préludes are played with a more wide-awake style and slightly drier tone than one is used to in this music, but this is a valid interpretation; after all, Scriabin morphed within a very few years into the pentatonic, extended chord composer we know from his symphonies and late sonatas.
And so the program continues, going from piece to piece, contrasting as much as possible faster, less amorphous pieces with softer pastels. It’s a good indication of Schmidt’s abilities as an artist. In Ravel’s “Une barque sur l’ocean,” the notes cascade out from the piano as if they were being poured out of the instrument in liquid form—extraordinary playing!
The one outlier in the program is the Cave Obscure by one Vera Schmidt, whose birth year is given as 1990. Nowhere in the booklet or online can one find a single word about this composer, who I suspect is Josefa’s older sister or a very young aunt. Eight years’ difference is too little for it to be her mother. It’s a fascinating piece, opening up with a soft, dissonant chord, followed by strange scalar passages that eventually coalesce into a whole-tone melody into which a few harmonic skewers are tossed in. At one point, Schmidt even knocks on the piano’s frame for a few beats. Then the tempo picks up and continues to accelerate before suddenly pulling up short; a few sprinkled notes in the right hand, and we return to the strange harmonies of the opening, now shifted around a bit. Later still, the tempo accelerates again as a crashing chord leads to a cascade of notes, then a dead stop at the end.
This is an outstanding recital, and I sincerely wish Ms. Schmidt a long and successful career. she has “it.”
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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