American Record Guide, July/August 2007
This was sent to me directly from the pianist, at the behest of colleague and friend Harris Goldsmith. Since I make no promises other than to listen to the recording, I am pleased to report that Harris has done well. Karen Kushner is the real thing and deserves a review.
This pianist has been active as both a soloist and chamber player, and has appeared at many noted venues. She is currently Associate Professor of Piano at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and has taught at the Mannes College of Music in New York City. Her teachers have included Jerome Lowenthal, Jeanne-Marie Darre, Russell Sherman, and William Masselos. The warm sound of the White Concert Hall at the University of Missouri is a further asset.
The ménage a trios of Brahms, Clara and Robert may have been an innocent one, but giving Brahms and Clara the benefit of the doubt, their musical contributions leave no cause to complain. Clara’s sonata is well written, engaging, and will be an enjoyable discovery for many. This Christmas present for Robert from his 22-year-old bride was first published in 1991. It may not reach the heights in terms of artistic accomplishment, but under the advocacy of Kushner it emerges with a gentle freshness from a modest creative force. Its four movements take only about 20 minutes, so few will complain that it lingers too long.
The sonata by the 20-year-old Brahms, if hardly in a league with the masterpieces he was to later produce, is a strong, passionate work in four movements. The Andante has a capriciousness combined with some gentle writing not always associated with this composer. Kushner’s pianism avoids any feeling of weight and turgidity that can plague performances of his music. Her lighter and more expressive style rarely pushes tempos but never seems too cautious in the faster movements. Even if you have Biret or Katchen’s more volatile performances, this different approach has much to recommend it.