Beach: Four sketches; Suite for two pianos on irish melodies; Ballad in D flat

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COMPOSERS: Beach
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Four sketches; Suite for two pianos on irish melodies; Ballad in D flat
PERFORMER: Virginia Eskin, Kathleen Supove (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7254-2
Though Amy Beach is hardly remembered today, she was a pioneer who produced copiously in a Romantic idiom, and was the first American woman to write a symphony. Pianist Virginia Eskin’s sleevenote tells how Beach, like Clara Schumann, found her strong executant skills also channelled into the art of composition. The artistic justification for this recording is found in her sensitive, introspective readings of piano pieces with Chopinesque titles – ballad, valse, caprice, nocturne – and a lively two-piano suite on Irish melodies, played with fellow pianist Kathleen Supové.

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Shades of Liszt, Franck and others are present in these works. Less American in flavour than the music of Edward MacDowell, six years her senior, they show a strong interest in form (Beach’s penchant was for fugues of a rather pale and anaemic cast). But her strength lay in short items focused by a single poetic idea: two ‘hermit thrush’ studies with allusive bitonal effects suggest the potential of a composer who in other pieces adopted the more popular style of a contemporary figure such as Ethelbert Nevin. Nicholas Williams