On Record – Sarah Cahill: The Future is Female, Vol.1: ‘In Nature’

Beglarian Fireside (2001)
Bon Keyboard Sonata in B minor, Op.2/5 (1757)
Carreño Un rêve en mer (1868)
Dillon Birds at Dawn, Op. 20 No. 2 (1917)
Gribbin Unseen (2017)
Jambor Piano Sonata ‘To the Victims of Auschwitz’ (1949)
Kaprálová Dubnová preludia, Op.13/1 & 3 (1937)
Kashperova Au sein de la nature – no.3: Le Murmure des blés (1910)
Mendelssohn-Hensel Lieder Op.8/1 & 3 (1846)
Watkins Summer Days (2020)

Sarah Cahill [piano, voice (‘Fireside’)]

First Hand Records FHR131 [71’32”]
Producer/Engineer Matt Carr
Recorded 15-28 August 2021 at St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, California

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

First Hand Records has issued the first instalment in a planned trilogy devoted to piano works by female composers ranging across the past three centuries, played by Sarah Cahill who has made both the reviving and commissioning of this music a mainstay of her performing career.

What’s the music like?

As Cahill relates in an introductory video (below), The Future is Female is a project to record music by women composers from the Baroque era through to the present-day. Loosely based around the theme of nature, this first volume opens with music from the cusp of the Classical era: Anna Bon, Venetian-born and Prussian-educated, whose primary keyboard work is Six Sonatas published as her Op. 2 – the fifth comprising three relatively substantial movements which finds influences from C.P.E. Bach being put to productive use.

The music of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel has now started to come into its own, her extensive output for piano well represented by two from a set of Vier Lieder published as her Op. 8 and akin to the Songs without Words of her brother Felix in their respectively limpid and poetic moods. Exerting considerable influence as pianist and administrator, the Caracas-born Teresa Carreño wrote little in later life, making this teenage Étude-méditation the more striking for its suffused intensity. Equally highly regarded as a pianist, Leokadiya Kashperova brings an impressionist deftness to this movement from her piano suite In the Midst of Nature, whereas Fannie Charles Dillon yields an even lighter touch through an extract from Eight Descriptive Pieces with its pioneering though always subtle approach on the notation of various birdsong.

Long remembered through her association with Martinů, the short-lived Vitĕzslava Kaprálová was an able composer whose piano output includes April Preludes – elusive miniatures which pivot around without ever losing a sense of tonality. The sure highlight is the Piano Sonata by Agi Jambour, its recollection of Budapest during the Nazi occupation inspiring a piece whose three movements take in fraught passion, an Epitaph of sombre poise, then a finale of stark resolve. Of the three living composers, Eve Beglarian features the recitation of a poem by the teenage Ruth Crawford-Seeger within the context of an improvisatory piano backdrop. Deidre Gribbin pens a forceful study of London at a time of social and cultural upheaval, then Mary D. Watkins’s capricious evocation of children at play ends the recital on a more hopeful note.

Does it all work?

Yes. Although not all these pieces are of comparable value, the chronological approach such as Cahill favours makes sense in terms of a stylistic evolution in writing for piano; a parallel (rather than alternative) trajectory through 250 years of Western art music. There can be few reservations concerning either the sound, as good as it gets in terms of clarity and perspective, or the pianist’s detailed and informative annotations. At least half of this selection should be featured in the repertoire of pianists, male or female, which says much as to its overall worth.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The second volume is imminent with the third in preparation, making for a series as inclusive as it is wide-ranging. Cahill has already amassed a significant discography – further information can be found at her website, which also gives details of her forthcoming recitals.


For further information on this release, head to the First Hand Records website, and for more information on Sarah Cahill, click here. For more information on the composers, click on the names of Leokadiya Kashperova, Vitĕzslava Kaprálová, Agi Jambor, Eve Beglarian, Deidre Gribbin and Mary D. Watkins

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