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Women and War and Peace from Yarlung Records

03-02-2023 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 126

Women and War and Peace. Yarlung Records; Katelyn Bouska, Piano; YAR54460: Gold Substrate CD pressed in Germany. 

Executive Producers: Evan Flaschen and Patrick Trostle. Recording Engineers: Bob Attiyeh and Arian Jansen. Mastering Engineers: Steve Hoffman, Arian Jansen and Bob Attiyeh. Microphone Preamplification: Elliot Midwood. AKG C24 microphone: Ancona Audio. Steinway Technician: Kathy Smith Cooper Bates. Photography Graphic Layout: MikeDesign

"Kate flew to Southern California to record with us on August 8th and 9th, 2022 in Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. She performs on New York Steinway 549654, kindly given to Segerstrom Center by my friend and Yarlung patron Michelle Rohe, and tuned for us by Kathy Smith and her wonderful team. Fellow recording engineer and equipment designer Arian Jansen and I used the SonoruS ATR12 to record analog tape, the Merging Technologies HAPI to record 256fs DSD in stereo and surround sound and the SonoruS ADC to record PCM. We used our friend Ted Ancona's AKG C24 microphone previously owned by Frank Sinatra, and vacuum tube microphone amplification by Yarlung executive producer and designer Elliot Midwood."   

Women Composers Featured and Their Selections

  1. Caroline Shaw Gustave Le Gray 14:04 
  2. Maria Szymanowska Mazurkas 2:30 
  3. Maria Szymanowska Fantaisie in F Major 11:53 
  4. Ruth Schönthal Fragments from a Woman's Diary 27:04 
  5. Ivana Loudová Prague Imaginations: Five Pieces for Piano 11:58 
  6. Vítězslava Kaprálová Dubnová preludia 9:11 
  7. Ludmila Yurina Shadows and Ghosts 6:43 

The Pianist: Katelyn Bouska

"Kate not only performs in concert halls around the world, but she's a lightning-smart academic at Curtis Institute researching and lecturing regularly on Central and Eastern European composers close to her heart." Katelyn Bouska is both American and Czech. She was born in the United States but spends many months a year performing and lecturing in Prague.  

The stories behind these female composers are so sad yet compelling, or gripping and exciting, I will let you read the liner notes for yourself when you acquire the CD. I will, instead, concentrate on the music and performance. 

This CD is a musical wonder. It is a journey through time for female composers, some recognized in their day, others not. The pieces are approachable and melodic. All are original and extraordinary. 

The selections begin with a current composer, Caroline Shaw, and her original composition, "Gustave Le Gray." A very special piece, embodying the new and the old. Just when you think you understand her style, it changes and it entertains. Inspired by Chopin and others, not to mention her own point of view, we have total originality. This is an excellent beginning to an extraordinary compilation.

I had read about Maria Szymanowska, her Mazurkas and "Fantaisie in F Major," but never heard them before. A Schubert contemporary, she toured as a concert pianist before it was fashionable for women of the era. Her selections are delightful and fun, bold and melodic. They are more complex than one would imagine in the early 19th century, more like a female Chopin years before he would compose and play. This is beautiful music with personality and feelings. It leaves one wanting much more.

Ruth Schonthal's "Fragments from a Woman's Diary" is lyrical and introspective. You cannot pin it down. Melody after melody, some waltz some not, always moving forward. I really enjoyed the beauty of it all and its power to entertain. This energy and originality come naturally, I suppose, when Nazis are at your door.

Ivana Loudova's "Prague Imaginations: Five Pieces for Piano," is a thing of beauty. I know it was written as a remembrance of a very ugly time, but its melodic structure just floats you along—until it changes to a new melody that is bigger and bolder than the last. This is a truly gorgeous selection.

Vitezslava Kapralova's "Dubnova Preludia" is gloriously magnificent and melodic and sad. It speaks to you of the innocence of a young girl and prodigy. Demonstrating her genius, this gorgeous selection was to be her near-final composition. 

Ludmila Yrina's "Shadows and Ghosts" is powerful and strange. Special in its own way, it sounds to me just like its title suggests. Would make a great movie soundtrack.

The Pianist: Katelyn Bouska, is extremely talented and plays with superb sophistication. With so many styles among the composers, she interprets each with an originality that is very special. I wish she was touring in America. What a magnificent pianist!

The Recording

Women of War and Peace is recorded in the purest possible way, sparing no expense. For a CD on a revealing system, the piano is in the room. This is very near the master tape sound with analog overtones. Textural cues are wonderful and rich. The piano image is solid and alive and exhibits no compression whatsoever. There is just enough ambiance and space to indicate a hall, with no sweetening. This is a reference piano recording of the first order. If your system is exceptional, this may be the best piano CD in your collection. Most highly recommended.

Performance A

Sonics A+ 

CD Retail price: $19.99

Joshua Cheek

8721 Santa Monica Boulevard #111

Los Angeles, California 90069


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