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Diane Walsh, pianist: Reviews

"PSO puts on tight performance of works by tight-knit trio"

...Between the Brahms and Schumann, Diane Walsh joined the orchestra as the soloist in Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor (Op. 7). It’s a surprisingly mature work, given that she completed it at age 14, and it includes some fascinating innovations – most notably, a central movement for piano and cello alone.

It is a lively, sometimes playful work, with a sparkling piano part that offers a glimpse of the technique for which Clara was renowned. Walsh gave it a thoughtful performance, with enough energy to bring its considerable melodic riches and surprising harmonic turns fully to life. And Walsh and cellist William Rounds gave a beautiful account of the duet movement.

"A New Take on Clara Schumann"

Guest conductor of the Portland Symphony, Ruth Reinhardt, came on stage Tuesday night like a bundle of energy, or a ball of St. Elmo’s fire, and proceded to give a large audience at Merrill Auditorium the ride of their lives....

Clara Schumann’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 7, under the accomplished fingers of Diane Walsh, was a different beast entirely. In many ways it was reminiscent of Chopin in its minimal orchestration, Romanticism, use of the Polonaise dance form, and virtuoso flourishes, some borrowed from Liszt.

Walsh is known for her interpretations of modern piano works, and her style is brilliant and percussive. Her interpretation of the concerto revealed why Clara Schumann was queen in the arena of virtuosi. It is a showpiece and it wowed the audience at Merrill as it must have those in European capitols.

Compared to most feminist versions of the work, it was downright unladylike. The listeners at Merrill gave it a standing ovation with cheers.

. . .The second selection of the evening was a piano concerto composed by the 15-year-old Clara Schumann. Her husband Robert orchestrated the last movement and sometime later she wrote and also scored the first two movements. . . .

The soloist was Portland resident Diane Walsh who played with surefire control of dynamics and technical command. The best part of the performance occurred during the 2nd movement when the orchestra stopped playing and a beautiful duet ensued with a solo cello ravishingly played by [William Rounds] and Ms. Walsh doing the honors. . . .

The concerto itself calls for a virtuoso pianist (which Mr. Walsh is) and contains some lovely musical ideas but these are not developed to any extent. One must keep in mind that she was a teenager when she wrote it! Her orchestration never over shadowed the piano part in any of the movement that were played without pause. Prior to the start of the last movement there is an extended roll on the timpani which immediately caused me to think of the same event during the end of the slow movement in the “Fantastic Symphony” by Berlioz. (Who took from whom?) 

Maestro Kevin Rhodes and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra plunged into 2018 in high classical style on Saturday evening, presenting an enthusiastic audience of 1,651 concertgoers with brilliant performances of music by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven....

The concert's centerpiece was Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto, K. 466, with guest soloist Diane Walsh playing a crystalline-toned Yamaha grand piano. Rhodes and his colleagues set the scene with Mozart's seething syncopations, and Walsh surfed the sea of sound with a controlled legato of ideas, delivering themes with deliberate elegance. She employed Beethoven's thorny, trill-laden cadenza for the first movement to superb effect.

Rhodes launched the B-flat Romance at a patient, pillowy tempo over which Walsh draped the forthright theme with simple warmth. With barely a breath, she dashed forward into the rondo finale, and earned a standing ovation from the thrilled audience.


One of the most broadly useful services the Portland Conservatory of Music provides is its Noonday Concerts, a series of free recitals by faculty members and students, every Thursday at 12:15 p.m. The concerts run about 40 minutes, and though they are weighted toward classical music, the schedule also includes trace amounts of jazz, folk and world music.

Most of the concerts – including pianist Diane Walsh‘s recital, which opened the series – are at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church. This year, the concert on the third Thursday of every month will be at the Portland Public Library.

Walsh gave thoughtful accounts of three works from the heart of the classical repertory, all substantial, yet short enough to fit into the series format. She began with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major (Op. 78), a two-movement work that covers considerable ground in its 10-minute span, its opening Adagio cantabile movement blossoming from a chorale-like chord progression into a brawny, sometimes brash expansion, and its playful Allegro vivace finale challenging the pianist to balance humor and showmanship.

Walsh used the church’s relatively intimate proportions and comfortable acoustics to fine effect, giving a relaxed but precise performance in which textures were admirably transparent and dynamics were carefully nuanced. That control could be a double-edged sword, at times. It did wonders for the wit in Beethoven’s finale, but there were moments in the opening movement when you expected a greater measure of Beethovenian gruffness – when the music strained against the polite orderliness of Walsh’s interpretation.

Walsh’s closing work, Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major (Op. 47) also seemed restrained, at times, but it became clear toward the end of the performance that this was a matter of pacing: Walsh gradually loosened the reins as the work unfolded, and by its final pages, its underlying passions were entirely clear.

She was at her best, though, in Debussy’s “Images, Book I,” a set of three pieces in which suppleness and nuance are crucial. The irony in these, and in Debussy generally, is that the softer the focus, the more vivid the music’s implicit imagery. In “Reflets dans l’eau,” which opened the set, Walsh produced Debussy’s harmonically nebulous washes of sound and gentle, pastel tone colors with a deftness and flexibility that yielded a clear vision of the water (if not the specific reflections) that the composer hoped to capture.

The remaining two movements are more abstract. “Hommage à Rameau,” for example, scarcely evokes the French Baroque composer to whom Debussy is paying tribute, although it borrows the contours of a Baroque dance form, the sarabande. Yet its calm, delicate surfaces suggest a more philosophical reflection on the history of the distinctive Gallic style, which Debussy – like Rameau before him – had revolutionized. And “Mouvement” is an Impressionistic perpetual motion piece, in which Walsh met the challenge of suggesting energy and drive, without sacrificing the soft edges of Debussy’s style.

As an encore, Walsh gave a spirited, bright-edged performance of a Schubert “Moments Musicaux" (Op. 94, No. 3).

"Emotion and rhythm combine for strong mix in chamber music close" [headline]

Berg’s settings of Rilke, Lenau, Hauptmann and other German poets are deeply and satisfyingly sophisticated – angular and densely chromatic at times, but still thoroughly rooted in the emotion-painting worlds of Mahler and Strauss. Soprano Tony Arnold, a singer best known for her performances of new music over her long career, gave these songs nuanced, gently illuminating interpretations, with Diane Walsh providing equally thoughtful accounts of the piano lines, which follow and magnify the texts nearly as much as the vocal writing.

 

Clarinetist Todd Palmer joined [Peter] Stumpf and Diane Walsh for the ever-popular Brahms Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, op. 114 . . . .  The performance was really excellent: Palmer has proven himself time and again an artist of unmatched clarity and suavity of tone and expression--he leapt from low-register pianissimo to upper-register fortissimo with not a hint of a crack, as if anybody could do it. Stumpf matched fully in tone, expression and smoothness, and his parallel passages with Palmer fully justified Mandyczewski's quip that the instruments seem in love with each other. Walsh's ardent yet not overpowering keyboard success belied the notorious difficulty of Brahms' piano writing, and tended the garden in which the lovers could tryst. 

 

Pianist Diane Walsh’s sensitive performance of the Chopin Concerto No. 2 in F Minor (Op. 21) was a throwback to a salon concert of the 1800’s. Somehow tuner Matt Guggenheim made the Steinway sound like a Pleyel, or maybe it was just Walsh’s touch in the high treble. I could listen to her string-of-pearls portamento scales and passage-work forever.

The pianist’s independence reminded me of harpsichordist Wanda Landowska—‘You play Bach your way and I’ll play it his way.” She demanded space for her interpretation and got it. For the most part, the orchestra in a Chopin concerto is an accompaniment, but it sometimes asserts itself in surprising ways. A horn call in the third movement jolted people out of their seats, like a racehorse hearing the post, and the climax got a bit muddy, but who cares? It was a magical transportation back in time, complete with an encore of Liszt’s “La Campanella,” which I never thought to hear again in my lifetime.

Both concerto and encore got a well-deserved standing ovation.

"Guest David Neely conducts the Portland Symphony with clarity" [headline]

Diane Walsh presented Chopin [Concerto No. 2] as more of a Classicist than a Romantic, partly by pedaling lightly, and partly by playing the solo line with a clarity that focussed on its rationality rather than on its perfume. Walsh's reading also had a buoyant, singing quality. For listeners who craved more Romantic virtuosity, Walsh gave a dazzling performance of the Liszt-Paganini La Campanella as an encore.

The pianist Diane Walsh opened the 20th season of the Noonday Concert series on Oct. 8 with a 40-minute program that included Bach’s Partita No. 4 in D (BWV 828) and William Bolcom's “Graceful Ghost Rag.” Walsh was for many years a mainstay of the concert world in New York, with frequent appearances as a soloist and chamber player, and a stint on Broadway, where she was both the music director and on-stage pianist in Moisés Kaufman’s "33 Variations," a meditation on Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations” that starred Jane Fonda. Walsh moved to Portland last year and now teaches at Colby College.

Pianists who play Bach’s harpsichord music on the modern piano have a range of interpretive options. Some find ways of alluding to the harpsichord’s needle-sharp articulation without jettisoning the piano’s flexibility. Others play the music as if it were actually written for the piano, with all the dynamic freedom the piano allows.

Walsh’s rendering of the Partita – a work included on her most recent recording, an all-Bach set – draws on both those possibilities, but aims at a different target. Her deference to the harpsichord was evident in her crisp, stylish ornamentation, and with phrasing that had the elegance that harpsichordists command almost as a birthright. You could not accuse her of going overboard with pianistic dynamics alien to the older instrument. Yet the impression she created in her stately, warm-toned performance of the Ouverture, and which she sustained throughout the Partita, was that she regards neither the harpsichord nor the piano as fully adequate for this music.

Instead, her sound, gestures and coloration suggested that she thinks of the Partita in orchestral terms, and the most winning aspect of her performance was that she was able to create the illusion of orchestral heft while sacrificing nothing of the transparency that Bach’s counterpoint demands. She also did a fine job of characterizing the individual dance movements, particularly the Allemande, which floated with a gentle sweetness, and the closing Gigue, which was a torrent of energy. The Bolcom required a significant shifting of gears but proved a wonderful concert closer. As both a composer and a pianist, Bolcom is a master of many styles, and his glosses on antique popular styles have always been especially entertaining, mainly because he has the moves down so well. His “Graceful Ghost Rag,” like many works authentically of the ragtime era, has one foot in the salon and the other in a saloon: Syncopations and bluesy turns are offset by a sophisticated but understated humor, and an equally low-key virtuosity. Walsh gave those qualities their due. After the high-flying Bach, it was the perfect way to bring listeners down to earth before sending them back to their daily rounds.

The pianist Diane Walsh plays extended excerpts from the Diabelli Variations, elegantly, in full view of the audience. In a way Ms. Walsh is a character in the play....Meanwhile, at preview performances of "33 Variations", Ms. Walsh's splendid recording for JDR (Jonathan Digital Recordings), available in the lobby, has been selling "like hotcakes," Mr. Kaufman said.

Diane Walsh, an underrated pianist (even after her Broadway stint in “33 Variations”), plays an underrated Schubert work, the smaller of the A minor sonatas, a personal favorite. The first movement’s second theme is one of Schubert’s most melting inspirations even before he sweetens it with triplets in the recapitulation. Ms. Walsh plays it beautifully and gives a fine account of the posthumous B flat Sonata, which is rated right about where it should be: at the top.

...a performer of great honesty and integrity.... [Beethoven's] Sonata in E major Op. 109, one of the sublime masterpieces in all of music, got a performance worthy of its status--lyrical, contemplative, powerful, and very moving.

Michael Manning - Boston Globe

The resourceful pianist Diane Walsh begins her new recording with a dynamic performance of Barber's sonata. By placing this compact 20-minute work in context with major sonatas by Prokofiev and Bartok as well as a set of eight intriguing preludes by the Swiss composer Frank Martin, Ms. Walsh invites listeners to hear it as a formidable modern masterwork. Moreover, while she brings plenty of Romantic sweep and arching lyricism to her performance, her incisive, spiky and, where called for, percussive playing reclaims the work from its neo-Romantic trappings. The first movement surges forward in this performance, alternating statements of its grimly nervous, dotted-rhythm theme with melancholic lyrical flights. Ms. Walsh makes the short, playful scherzo sound ingeniously intricate by pristinely executing the scampering figurations and maximizing the effect of the constant shifts between duple and triple meter. The slow movement, a lament, is performed with sensitive restraint. And Ms. Walsh brings unflagging stamina and bravura to the finale, an onrushing, stunningly complex fugue with a hellbent coda. Her performance of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 exults in the music's turbulent energy and sarcastic wit. The Martin preludes - pensive, elusive works with loose tonal moorings - are a real discovery. Ms. Walsh gives a fearless account of Bartok's sonata, music that sounds as modern today as it must have at its 1926 premiere. With its pummeling octave passages and thick, finger-twisting chords, this score should carry a stamp from the surgeon general's office warning pianists that playing it could cause injury to the hands. But Ms. Walsh dispatches it with vigor and authority.

Anthony Tommasini - New York Times

...to each work she brought not only 
a lovely tone and immaculate technique, but a deep sense of personal conviction.

Washington Post

. . . has already almost all the attributes of greatness. The power and animation in her playing made a great impression. I particularly admired . . . the range and beauty of her tone.

The Daily Telegraph, London

Originally issued by Music and Arts, Diane Walsh's 1990 recital devoted to four pillars from the first half of the 20th century receives a new and hopefully permanent lease on life via the Bridge label. Her intelligent virtuosity offers pleasure and insight in equal doses. The disc opens with a satisfying account of the oft-recorded Barber Sonata.... The harmonic challenges, textural contrasts, and expressive opportunities offered in Frank Martin's 1947-48 set of eight preludes are too compelling for pianists to ignore any longer. Walsh's caring, conscientious pianism lovinlgly makes their case.... Walsh's performance of the Prokofiev and Bartok sonatas boast plenty of rhythmic verve and pinpointed accents while taking into account the piano's non-percussive potential. It's good to have this first-rate release back in the catalog, complete with the pianist's excellent annotations. Warmly recommended.

Walsh distinguishes herself, however, through her willingness to play [Schubert's] music a little bit more romantically.  She lingers on important notes and infuses more yearning and tension in her slow movements, especially in the cadenza-like stretches. The other important difference is that her release has some truly outstanding and exciting tracks. I found her reading of II of the big B-flat Sonata one of the best I have ever heard. The pathos at the start is great, but the bottled energy of the second theme--with its irrepressible left-hand staccatos--is even more delectable.  Walsh also does a fine job with the third and final movement of the A-minor Sonata (D 784).  Her fine fingerwork propels the scales and arpeggios forward in a truly fast and thrilling manner.

Brent Auerbach - American Record Guide Review

Schubert poured his life into his music, as can partly be heard in these transcendent works. The A-minor Sonata, Op. 143, D. 784, reflects the composer's mood changes in music of fierce and serene beauty. Similar angst pervades the Sonata in B-flat major, published posthumously, though wit and delight also abound. Diane Walsh plays both scores with supreme command of phrasing, dynamics and structure. Her performances take the listener deeply into Schubert's uniquely poetic world.

The seasoned American pianist's performances of two Schubert sonatas are as fine as any on disc. She has a keen feel for Schubert's sometimes elusive harmonic structures, and phrases rise and fall with vocal sensitivity. Add gorgeous recorded sound-this from a boutique label-and you've got a high recommendation.

A romantic pianist with a finely honed, expressive temperament, Diane Walsh played an exquisite recital at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, San Jose, Saturday, October 30, courtesy of the Steinway Society the Bay Area. A small but enthralled audience sat quite mesmerized by Walsh’s program of Liszt and Schumann, which combined Old-World lyricism and American technical finesse in an uncommon alchemy of rare and poignant beauty.

This is the first volume of what is expected to be Schubert's complete piano sonatas--an impressive challenge for any pianist to undertake. I was won over by the beauty of the playing and the untroubled interpretive smoothness. Walsh spins out the line with great attention to nuance and color-serenely moving, always song-like, and expressive.

Alan Becker - American Record Guide

In Fanfare 32:5 I reviewed the first CD in Diane Walsh’s projected complete sonata cycle, and predicted it would be outstanding. The second disk is equally impressive; Diane Walsh proves again to be an interpreter of uncommon sensitivity to the special music world Schubert created. 

Diane Walsh’s reading of the great posthumous B-flat Sonata, the crowning glory in Schubert’s sonata output, is nothing short of magnificent. In all its 42-minute length there is not one misjudgment or misstep. From the opening measures of the first movement, whose  enigmatic tempo heading-- Molto moderato—has been so badly misunderstood by myriad pianists (Kissin, Richter, and Uchida among them) to mean “very slow”—one hears a perfect tempo that moves forward, always with a flexibility that matches its changing content. In the dozens of performances of this sonata that I have reviewed, the main problem in many of them is the choice of tempo for the first and second movements. Perhaps it is because this is Schubert’s final sonata, and its serious first movement evokes a reverential, solemn response; but it succeeds in pointing up a common and unwarranted criticism of Schubert regarding the length of some of his works.

Throughout this CD Diane Walsh plays Schubert with a sympathetic understanding of his unique musical personality. This translates to following the score’s many subtleties of expression without imposing any mannerisms, shaping the phrases as Schubert wrote them, and letting the music speak with its own eloquence. The excellent sound of the recording, made at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, is another plus. One more element adds to the beauty of this production: Walsh’s very personal and sensitive liner notes. These are performances to be treasured.

Susan Kagan - Fanfare Magazine

For this first volume, Walsh chose two sonatas stemming from the same year, 1825. Both are masterpieces-- very different from each other in character, but sharing the composer’s reflections on the countryside. . . . Diane Walsh would seem to be the perfect pianist for this music; she follows the score with the utmost fidelity, and her technical command, beautiful sound, and sensitive phrasing contribute to insightful performances.... Diane Walsh is one of a group of several contemporary pianists who have found an affinity with Schubert and given impressive performances on CD. Walsh proves to be a worthy addition to this assemblage, providing Schubert playing on the highest level.

Susan Kagan - Fanfare

The "Diabelli Variations" are majestically performed live by pianist Diane Walsh, in an order that has its own lyrical logic. The overall effect is traveling not just to a different time and place but also through the music of the spheres.

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