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On February 7, 2020, Steinway & Sons releases Louise Farrenc: Etudes & Variations for Solo Piano (STNS 30133) from pianist Joanne Polk. This album highlights the works of prolific female composer Louise Farrenc, one of a handful of 19th century women who enjoyed success during their time. Farrenc rose to prominence in the male dominated world of 19th century music by virtue of her talent and her family’s encouragement and support. Farrenc’s gift for music was discovered early and fostered throughout her life by lessons in theory and teachers at the Paris Conservatory. Eventually she began publishing music with the help of her husband, Jacques Artistide Farrenc, who owned a music publishing business in Paris.
Farrenc’s compositions were well received, and in 1842, Farrenc became the first female professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory. Throughout her distinguished career she composed a large amount of music in many genres, from chamber works to symphonies, all of which were published and performed regularly in Paris and beyond.
Among the most influential of her works is a collection of 30 etudes written in major and minor keys in 1839. This collection was favorably received in the Parisian music press in 1840 and would go on to be adopted by the Paris Conservatory as required piano repertoire in 1845. As was typical of etudes at that time, Farrenc’s compositions were designed to target technical studies and build the expressiveness of the player. Featured on this record are 15 selections from Farrenc’s works in this genre.
Sets of piano variations made up a large part of the compositional output and concert programs of most major pianist-composers of the Romantic era, some of which feature variations or paraphrases of melodies drawn from popular operas of the day. Two sets on this album highlight Bellini’s Norma and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots respectively. Another set of variations on this recordng that requires great pianistic virtuosity is Air Russe Varié, which begins with a “Preludio” and proceeds to a minor-mode folk melody and variations.
CLICK HERE to listen to Joanne’s interview with Fred Child on Performance Today (Minnesota Public Radio).
Pianist extraordinaire Earl Wild transcribed some of his favorite Gershwin tunes into etudes and variations for solo piano. In addition, this CD features Wild’s Piano Sonata, the last movement of which is titled “Toccata (à la Ricky Martin)! Super fun pieces throughout this CD, for those who love those delicious classical standards, and a little jazz as well.
This CD debuted at #1 on Classical Billboard! Chaminade was a prolific French composer who published over 400 pieces in her lifetime. She was a brilliant pianist and toured throughout the world, and in the United States, musical societies founded by women, inspired by Chaminade, began sprouting all over the midwest and were titled “Chaminade Clubs.” Some still exist today. Her music is tonal and lilting and lovely and charming, and her concert etudes are challenging and virtuosic and inspiring.
Brother and sister Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn both showed immense musical talent as children and studied music. Because of societal prejudices and limitations on women, a number of pieces written by Fanny were published under Felix’s name. Folklore has it that Felix had a private meeting with Queen Victoria, who loved his music. She sang her favorite Mendelssohn song, at which point Felix had to confess that, oops! Queen Victoria’s favorite Mendelssohn song was in fact written by Fanny! This CD features piano sonatas by Felix and Fanny, both in the key of g minor, and Preludes and Fugues by Felix and Fanny, both in the key of e minor. Fun to compare!
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was a woman blessed with intellectual gifts, musical talent and the privileges of a wealthy upbringing. As a child, she was encouraged to go as far as her talent would take her, but, once she was married and had a child, she was expected to lay aside her musical gifts in favor of more mundane household hold tasks. The body of work contained on this double CD carries in it all the longing, doubts, passion, struggle, love, joy and brilliance of her life and career. Some of these pieces are only recently available to the public. Here are a collection of 32 piano works, some of which have never been released on CD, composed by the sister of Felix Mendelssohn.
THIS CD WAS NOMINATED FOR A GRAMMY AWARD!!
Amy Beach produced more than 120 songs, only a few of which are known to the general public. One of her songs, The Year’s at the Spring, was so popular in her day that she bought a house in Cape Cod with the residuals from sales of the song. This CD presents 22 of Beach’s finest songs, a selection which ranges from some of her earliest published efforts through her later brooding masterpieces. Superb American baritone Patrick Mason is the featured baritone on this CD, which makes an excellent case for these songs as major English language song literature.
Joanne Polk has been a devoted advocate of composer Judith Lang Zaimont’s music for decades. This CD includes Zaimont’s renowned Piano Sonata, the last movement of which, titled Impronta Digitale, is a virtuosic masterpiece, and was commissioned for the 11th International Van Cliburn Competition. Also includes Hesitation Rag, a fun, jazzy piece, in the style of the turn-of-the-century (20th century, that is) ragtime style, with lots of syncopated rhythm.
This CD, Volume 5 in the series of complete piano music of Amy Beach, reunites Joanne Polk with the Lark Quartet, in chamber music by Amy Beach, and includes her violin sonata, string quartet, and piano trio. The Piano Trio was written when Beach was 70 years old, as she dips her toe into late Romanticism and Impressionism. Beach was a Romantic composer, in spite of living almost to the middle of the 20th century. Her music was often dismissed as being naive and old-fashioned. But the string quartet does explore dissonances, while the violin sonata looks back to a more Brahmsian sound. Beach possessed a multitude of styles and techniques in her compositional tool chest. This CD gives a flavor of her compositional depth.
This CD is Volume 4 in the series of complete piano music of Amy Beach, and features her monumental Piano Concerto, recorded in London with the English Chamber Orchestra, Paul Goodwin, conductor. As well, Beach’s renowned Piano Quintet, which pairs Joanne Polk with the Lark Quartet, rounds out the CD. The Piano Concerto is a large, four-movement work to rival any major romantic concerto. Beach wrote about the orchestra as a rival to the piano in the genre of concerto composing, and many Beach scholars believe Beach composed this piece with the struggles of an overbearing mother and a domineering husband, as the driving force behind its creation. The Piano Quintet is also large and romantic in style, and the slow movement enjoys such a breathtaking and poetic theme, it is often excerpted and played on its own in concerts.
Joanne Polk recorded the complete solo piano music of Amy March Cheney Beach (1867-1944) in three highly acclaimed CDs.
Volume 3: fireflies, the final volume of Polk’s excursion into Beach’s solo piano music, includes Beach’s Four Sketches Op. 15, four charming character pieces, the third of which is the lovely “Dreaming,” and last of which is the title of the CD, a virtuosic and challenging exercise in double thirds flying all over the piano.
Volume 2: under the stars, includes Beach’s brilliant Prelude and Fugue based on the letters of her name: A-B-E-A-C-H (H as B-natural) as well as her most popular Ballad.
Volume 1: by the still waters includes the Variations on Balkan Themes, a haunting piece focused on conflicts in the Balkan region, some of which still simmer today.
This CD contains two piano trios by Zaimont, and features, in addition to pianist Joanne Polk, violinist Peter Winograd and cellist Peter Wyrick. As well, ZONES presents, in its entirety, Zaimont’s most well-known piece for solo piano, “A Calendar Set,” which has 12 movements — one movement for each month of the year. While very rarely played in its entirety, the piece is excerpted quite frequently. Zaimont refers to his piece as her “Rachmaninoff C-sharp minor prelude,” because of the frequency of performances, over many decades. Trios #1 and 2 are equally-exceptional music, and the last movement of Piano Trio #1, titled “Russian Summer,” is named “Romp,” which means “to have fun and enjoy oneself,” and this movement is a joy and a hoot to play and to hear.
“Completely Clara,” selected songs by Clara Wieck Schumann, launched Joanne Polk’s career focus on music by women. Recorded with Metropolitan Opera soprano Korliss Uecker, selections include the lovely and intimate Die Stille Lotosblume and the fiery Lorelei.