Fanfare Reviews Volume One - by Peter Burwasser
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 Peter Burwasser
Jean Tews was a Canadian pianist approximately contemporary with Glenn Gould (she was born in 1929, he in 1932) and a fellow student of his, but that is about all they had in common. As evidenced by this lovely recording, her playing was relaxed and infused with natural, poetic phrasing, rarely expressing the bold, exciting, and also frequently eccentric musical personality of Gould. After graduating from the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory), she suffered through a bad first marriage (her husband was abusive) before marrying Lothar Tews, a German automobile executive.
He purchased state of the art recording equipment for her, and she spent the rest of her days producing many hours of music from the core repertoire, starting in the late 1980s, which is the basis for this new series. Her public career was limited. She embarked on a concert tour in Germany in the last year of her life, but fell ill near its outset and died of breast cancer in 1993.
Overall, this is a highly engaging recital, showcasing a deeply committed artist who, at her best, shapes the music with extreme care, a lovely sense for harmonic texture, and dramatic insight. There is no sense in comparing these recordings to other versions (all of this music has been copiously recorded); Tews had a unique voice, away from the fray of public concertizing, allowing her to concentrate on intimacy and elegance. None of the music on this first selection of the Tews tapes is especially virtuosic. In the moderately paced Brahms Intermezzos, the Chopin Nocturne and Prelude, and in both selections from Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Tews revels in beautifully controlled dynamic phrasing. This is certainly the strong point of the release, and I expect to continue to listen to this playing for sheer pleasure.
The main critique about Tews’s playing is that she can be overly cautious in the few pieces here that do require some fire. Certainly, the Brahms Waltzes lack their usual vivacity when played at these slower tempos. But then again, Tews manages to make the two Chopin Études her own, with attention to melodic complexity and harmonic texture, despite the lack of flashiness normally associated with this music.
There are some interesting technical aspects to this project. The lovely-sounding piano is a Kawai EX Concert Grand, and the microphone used for the project was the exotic and extremely expensive (around $10,000) Calrec Mark IV Soundfield, feeding one of Sony’s first professional high-end DAT decks, the PCM-2500. I detected some minor over-modulation on one or two tracks, but overall the sound is intimate and very natural.