Fanfare Reviews Volume One - by Dave Saemann
Composer Masterworks Volume One received an excellent review in Fanfare magazine in its July/August 2019 issue. The full review is reproduced below.
FEATURE REVIEW by Dave Saemann
The story of Jean Tews objectively is a simple one. Prize-winning years at the Toronto Conservatory, where she was a contemporary of Glenn Gould, followed by an abusive first marriage that derailed her career, years as a semi-recluse in a happy second marriage to Lothar Tews, an intensive period of home recording, and, finally, a recurrence of cancer that killed her after embarking on a concert tour of Europe. So now, 30 years after her recordings were made, we finally get to hear Jean Tews.
The recordings Lothar and Jean made are of audiophile quality. Lothar recorded her using the Calrec Mark IV Soundfield microphone, and the forgotten digital tapes were were finally remixed and released in 2018. Part of the glory of the recordings is Jean’s Kawai EX Concert Grand. I previously heard this entirely handmade instrument on Frederick Moyer’s disc of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto (with a computer generated orchestra), but the sound of the piano on Lothar’s marvelous recordings is an eye opener. It possesses unusual power and tonal beauty. Jean is totally at one with her instrument, producing renditions that would be almost unthinkable on another piano.
So what is Jean Tews like as a pianist? Technically she has everything. It is likely that these recordings were unedited, a testimony to Jean’s digital control. She shows a deep concern for the architecture of every work, with tempos a little on the slow side usually, influenced no doubt by the long decay time of the sound of the Kawai. These are performances of great subtlety and spirit, with Jean accomplishing everything while seeming to do little at all. No one else sounds like Jean Tews, even though she has a different sound for each of the composers on this CD. I recommend that you put aside the back story of the disc, and simply revel in some of the best piano interpretations I’ve heard in a long while.
In three Brahms Intermezzos, Jean never loses their long line, while highlighting points of color in the manner of the Second Viennese School. There is a touch of world weariness to the two late Intermezzos. For the op. 39 Waltzes, Jean adopts relatively slow tempos that are nearly always danceable. The Liebeslieder Waltzes clearly have influenced her in pace and songfulness. She avoids the heavy rubato plus the push and pull that characterizes Walter Klien’s classic account. There always is a knowing twinkle in Jean’s eye. No. 1 is frothy, with a nod to the Viennese waltz masters, while No. 2 is suffused with Brahms’s melancholy. No. 13 sounds like a band in a village pub. The most famous waltz, No. 15, receives a gold standard account, blending romance with poise.
Jean’s Chopin is rich in tone, with tremendous warmth. Her account of the First Nocturne is slow and deeply felt, with ravishing tone colors. The Berceuse is one of the best I’ve heard, with an unusual emphasis on the work’s harmonic daring. The most vivid example of Jean’s chops on the CD comes in the op. 25/2 Étude. The “Cello” Étude possesses the rich brush strokes of a Renoir canvas. A no-nonsense approach to the “Raindrop” Prelude evokes parallels to Chopin’s Funeral March. In two of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Jean establishes a hearty atmosphere while losing none of their sinuous lyricism.
Whatever trauma Jean suffered from her calamitous first marriage, the love story between Lothar and Jean clearly enabled her to develop her artistry in a congenial emotional background. The period of these recordings, from 1988 to 1991, when Jean was in her late 50s and early 60s, must have been a golden era for her pianistic mastery. All praise to her brother for publishing these recordings. It suffices to say that on this CD, Jean Tews lives.
This article originally appeared in Issue 42:6 (July/Aug 2019) of Fanfare Magazine.