Photo credit: Katya Chilingiri

Photo credit: Katya Chilingiri

WASHINGTON POST

-Stephen Brookes

Jul 12, 2011

To hear either Lura Johnson or Jenny Lin play the piano is one of life’s great pleasures, and when they perform together — as they did Sunday afternoon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum — it’s an event not to be missed. 

The two are members of the new-music ensemble Verge, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that they put together a high-powered traversal of the 20th century, touching on everything from early atonality and tone clusters to Gershwin-flavored lyricism and thorny modernist etudes. And, as you’d expect, the virtuosity was stunning; but even more impressive was how the two drew a range of highly disparate works into a coherent, fascinating whole.

Seated together at the museum’s newly refurbished Steinway grand piano, the two opened with three gentle Bach transcriptions by the Hungarian Gyorgy Kurtag; a quiet meditation to settle the ears. But Johnson quickly kicked the 20th century into gear with Arnold Schoenberg’s Sechs Kleine Klavierstucke, Op. 19 — aphoristic miniatures from 1913 that leave tonality in the dust with almost effortless grace — and Lin raised the stakes with a scorching, absolutely bravura performance of the Danse Infernale from Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”

The pianists traded back and forth all afternoon; Johnson played four of Curtis Curtis-Smith’s lyrical, engaging Twelve Etudes for Piano (2000) and two of Henry Cowell’s early tone-cluster pieces (profoundly gentle and introspective, despite being played with the forearms), while Lin turned in incisive readings of three of Gyorgy Ligeti’s piano etudes. The Ligeti works are absolute masterpieces, and Lin’s powerful, precise technique more than did them justice.

But it may have been Kurtag’s 1975 “Jatekok/Games” (Book IV), which Lin and Johnson played together, that really stole the show. Ostensibly written for children, these beguiling and elegantly distilled works are adult in every way: the intimate thoughts of one of the century’s most intriguing musical minds.

 

BROADWAY WORLD.COM

-Jennifer Perry

“…the exceptional pianist Lura Johnson…”

 

MD THEATRE GUIDE

-Elliott Lanes

“… the orchestra soloists were top notch, particularly Lura Johnson’s piano solos on ‘The Entertainer’…” 

 

WASHINGTON CLASSICAL REVIEW

-Charles T. Downey

“Thibaudet was shadowed brilliantly by the BSO’s outstanding keyboard player, Lura Johnson, on the daunting celesta part…”

At the piano Lura Johnson wove a meditative veil with Pärt’s quotation of Bach’s Prelude in C Major (from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier)” 

 

DE ARTS INFO

-Christine Facciolo

“DSO principal pianist Lura Johnson rendered the first movement with an air of confidence and ease — her cadenza powerful yet insightful and moving… her virtuosity sizzles.”

 

THE STRAD

-Carlos Maria Solare

“an unusally well-structured performance that goes beyond superficial tonal beauties to reveal the score’s constitutive elements…  [George Rochberg’s] sonata’s slow movement plumbs great emotional depths that are uncompromisingly conveyed by both musicians. Shostakovich’s Sonata… receives a restrained performance that lets the music speak its nihilistic message without rubbing it in with superimposed emotional antics. Minkler and pianist Lura Johnson make a marvellous team…” 

 

THE MORNING CALL

-Steve Siegel

“Johnson’s piano work was spot-on, with a lovely cadenza and flawless timing… a jaw-dropping flurry of flying fingers…” 

 

BROAD STREET REVIEW, PHILADELPHIA

-Tom Purdom

“…liquid, flowing keyboard work…”

 

BALTIMORE SUN

-Tim Smith

“crystalline articulation in the Scherzo…. surging expressive force…” (entire review here)

“Johnson summoned impressive bravura as needed — Chausson demands a lot of it — and balanced that with considerable nuance.”

 “Several finely shaded efforts by soloists within the ensemble enhanced the performance, among them Jane Marvine (English horn), Steven Barta (clarinet), Rene Hernandez (trumpet) and Lura Johnson (piano).”

The six musicians maintained tight rapport as they tapped into the Concert’s Brahmsian heat and French elegance. In the Grave movement, they also achieved a remarkable richness of expression that cast quite a spell….”

“The percussion section did shining work, as did Lura Johnson at the piano…”

“polished, dynamic…”

“first-rate…”

“impressive warmth and cohesiveness…”

“Johnson’s performance had exceptional vitality, color and impact.”

“Their passionate account of Brahms’ Piano Quintet featuring pianist Lura Johnson had an effective sweep, full of character and a rich, well-blended sound.”

“Wednesday’s strong mix of repertoire, selected by pianist Lura Johnson, balanced the quirky, often just plain astonishing Ives trio between great works by Beethoven and Dvorak… You just have to smile, and I did as Johnson, violinist Ken Goldstein and cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn dug spiritedly into the notes. The riveting finale, with its Brahmsian lyricism and haunting references to “Rock of Ages,” was played in particularly powerful fashion.”

“BSO violinist Greg Mulligan and pianist Lura Johnson delivered Grieg’s C minor Sonata in warm, poetic fashion.”

 

WASHINGTON POST

-Stephen Brookes

“Johnson’s riveting account of Prokofiev’s “Sonata No. 7, Op. 83,” though, really stole the show. It’s a complex, subversive work, written in 1942 after the arrest and subsequent death of a friend of the composer’s, and Johnson looked unflinchingly into its anguished depths…   Johnson and Andrist gave it [Rite of Spring] a thundering performance, capturing the Rite’s jagged rhythms and driving, elemental power, and by the end you half expected the piano to be in pieces on the floor.”

WASHINGTON POST

“Johnson flowed effortlessly and eloquently through Ives’s myriad unfolding moods and ideas with confidence and thoughtfulness, not losing their literary statement.”

“Pianist Lura Johnson skillfully and enthusiastically brought out its playful and extroverted character… poignant…”

“virtuosic… hugely entertaining…”

“Brilliant…”

“At every turn… super-polished, fluent…”

 

NEW YORK SUN

“spirited … charming”

 

AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE

-Chaffee

rich, deep tone and impeccable technique… dazzling…” 

-Elaine Fine, April/May 2014

“a very lovely reading… Draiblate and Johnson give an engaging reading of Elgar’s “Salut d’amour”, where they seem to test the limits of rubato. They manage to ebb, flow, pull, and push to the furthest extreme without disturbing or distorting the line or exceeding the boundaries of good taste.  They apply the same kind of freedom to the Grieg F Major Sonata, which makes it a very exciting and engaging reading… They have me eating out of their hands….”

 

MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL

“…particularly commanding and imaginative support from the piano…”

 

NEWARK POST ONLINE.COM

“Lura Johnson — the beautiful, model-thin guest pianist — played the Grieg Concerto in A minor, opus 16 with great flourish and technical prowess – hands flying in the air dramatically at the end of phrases and grabbing the piano with her left hand when she played with the right. The pyrotechnics, melodic control and technical prowess which won her the audition for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra were evident in her rendition of the cadenza in the first movement. In the second movement, she played softly and lyrically, trading off the melody with the oboe. The third movement was the most impressive in expression and melodic control. Her ability to bring out the melody over a soft slew of notes in the left hand in the third movement won me over.”

 

THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS

“…The duo’s dedication to this 1982 work [Rochberg, Between Two Worlds] proved true and palpable as they negotiated deftly through its atmospheric sonorities and thorny dissonances… ” “…It was Johnson’s dynamic and confident playing that drove this piece [Franck A Major Sonata]. The pianist’s expressive touch, evident all evening, swelled to an expansive high in the finale.”

 

THE FLUTIST QUARTERLY

“Jennings and Johnson are truly a “duo”, a shared partnership of equal voices that are matched in musical understanding and approach to interpretation. Even when the flute is more prominently featured in the melodic line, the sensitive underpinning and comment by the piano accompaniment is sure and supportive. The inherent challenge of ensuring the listener does not miss the color of the original orchestral accompaniment is well met by Johnson.” – Spring 2007 issue

 

TESTIMONIALS

-Leon Fleisher, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Chair in Piano, The Peabody Institute

“a wonderfully gifted young pianist, inquisitive, enterprising, responsive and aware….”

-Robert McDonald, piano, The Juilliard School

“Her artistic capabilities are impressive and to splendid effect; furthermore she proves to be an excellent spokesperson who manages through her words to heighten the audience’s understanding of the works in a most effective way.” 

-Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

“Composers pray for players that are this imaginative and intelligent, this risk-taking and expressive. Christina [Jennings] and Lura not only bring already composed works of mine to renewed life, but actually feed my fancy new ideas and sounds. Add to this the duo’s power and virtuosity and you have every composer’s dream.” 

-Lawrence Moss, composer, University of Maryland School of Music

”Lura Johnson is the ideal pianist for new music, with a wonderful technique and exceptional insight into the character of the new music she is performing.   She instinctively performs it as the composer intended, so that I was more than satisfied – I was thrilled –  by the way she performed some new songs of mine with soprano Kate Hearden.  I look forward to working with Lura in the future”. 

-Jeanne Baxtresser, Former Principal Flute, New York Philharmonic

“The Jennings-Johnson Duo CD is a spectacular display of extraordinary musical poise and technical brilliance. The artistry of these two musicians is most compelling and gratifying in this beautifully programmed CD.”

-Leone Buyse, Flute Professor, Rice University Shepherd School of Music

“The Jennings-Johnson Duo is a magical partnership. Christina’s wizardry as a colorist is matched by Lura’s sensitivity to nuance and phrasing. This is a powerful, enchanting CD.”

-Greg Mulligan, violinist, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

“There are many pianists who can play a lot of notes, but very few who can collaborate with others like Lura Johnson. She has a unique ability to inspire and inform those with whom she works, making the group stronger than its individual parts. Musically speaking, she can both support and take charge, as necessary.”