Shirley Kirsten's recordings of Scarlatti and the Romantic masters have been widely praised. A review of A Musical Journey by Phyllis Villec, Editor of the California Music Teacher Magazine, states that "Kirsten has delved deeply into the complex music of Scarlatti and has achieved a beautifully balanced and sonically colorful picture. Her playing is immaculate and the piano tone appropriate to the music of an age when dynamics were drastically different than today. The Scarlatti works are nicely balanced by Schubert and Chopin."
From the East Bay Express, Dec. 16, 2009: "Accomplished local pianist, teacher, and graduate of New York High School of the Performing Arts and Oberlin Conservatory, Shirley Kirsten runs through a selection of Baroque composers including Schubert, Chopin, and the oft-neglected Scarlatti. Scarlatti, in particular, is notoriously difficult to play, and Kirsten handles it with impeccable technique, gorgeous tone, and general aplomb." (Kirsty, reviewer)
A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert and Chopin received a 2009 awards nomination by JPFolks in the category of Solo Classical Album. See www.jpfolks.com
Review by Lyn Bronson in the California Music Teacher, Summer, 2008:
"Kirsten plays with a lovely sylistic sensitivity and is not afraid to inject some expressive romanticism into some of the slower more lyrical Scarlatti Sonatas, especially those in the minor key."
Internet Review posted Sept. 26, 2007 at Blog critics.org
Music Review: Shirley Kirsten - A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, & Chopin
Written by C. Michael Bailey
Published September 26, 2007
Not only have the Internet, mp3s, downloadable music, and new compression methods revolutionized the production, marketing, and distribution of newly-minted popular music and jazz, they have also done the same for classical music. A case in point is Left-Coast pianist, maestro, and self-described piano finder Shirley Kirsten. Kirsten has just released her third self-produced recital of piano pieces, A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, & Chopin that follows the previously released Musical Enchantment and Inspiration. While the combination and proportion of the eras represented on this disc is curious, multiple listening go a long way in supporting Kirsten’s method and vision
Shirley Kirsten studied in New York City with Lillian Freundlich and in the Wild West with Ena Bronstein. One of her most significant influences has been pianist Murray Perahia with whom she attended the New York City High School Performing Arts which is now located near the Juilliard School in the Lincoln Center district of Manhattan. This high school is also noted for having produced the likes of conductors Gerard Schwarz and David Zinman, pianists Joshua Rifkin and Steven Lubin and jazz musicians Bill Charlap, Eddie Danials, Marcus Miller, and Shorty Rogers. Kirsten also participated with Perahia in a pianist Master Class.
Kirsten is not only a concert performer and recording artist, but she has recently penned a tome entitled Dream Piano that documents an eventful series of piano finding adventures in the company of one character, York, a colorful, 81-year old "piana tuna." All that adds up to Kirsten being quite a character on paper which this writer can further validate through recent conversations with the pianist.
Having established that Kirsten is a cross between Agatha Christi and Muzio Clementi transplanted into the 20th Century, what of her precious Scarlatti? Kirsten is beautifully sola scriptura, carefully respectful of Scarlatti’s scores without perform them in a boring or rote manner. Kirsten has no fear taking on the Vladimir Horowitz Scarlatti book, devoting special attention to Sonatas in "G Major, K. 146"; "D Major, K. 96"; "f minor, K. 466"; "D Major, K. 491"; and "E Major, K. 380." Of sensual delight here is Kirsten’s feather touch on the f minor sonata and her inclusion of the E Major Sonata, with which Horowitz opened his 1986 Moscow concert captured on Horowitz in Moscow.
Kirsten acknowledges her peer, Murray Perahia’s Scarlatti output with the inclusion of the "sonata in b minor, K. 27", accentuating Perahia’s purist approach with a more fluid articulation and expression in a way flattering to both pianists. Kirsten perfectly captures the lullaby character of the "B Flat Major Sonata, K. 440". Overall, this is superb Scarlatti, played with grace and care.
Kirsten’s Scarlatti recital is provocative but is made further compelling by the inclusion of a Schubert impromptu and three Chopin Waltzes. It would be simple, at first listen, to dismiss the inclusion of these Romantics with roundly Baroque Scarlatti… simple-minded, that is.
Listening to this disc in one sitting brings into focus the history of pianism from mid-18th Century to mid-19th Century. Using the metaphor of confection, one could consider the Baroque musings of Scarlatti as simple, yet elegant bonbons coated with powdered sugar. Dip these bonbons in the early Romanticism of milk chocolate and one can imagine the transformation of Scarlatti’s notes into the sweetened and slightly dangerous vision of Schubert. Substituting the decadence and delicious bite of dark chocolate for Schubert’s milk chocolate and one arrives at the high romanticism of Chopin, his waltzes musical gospels teaching so much in so short a time.
Shirley Kirsten’s choice and performance of these pieces is both educational and highly enjoyable. This is not music one fills up on; it is music of which one cannot get enough. It is a pleasure to know that A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, & Chopin will be followed by another Scarlatti/Chopin collection.
More CD Reviews of A Musical Journey:
"I think your recording activity is fabulous. I do think about you and applaud your spirit and your work."
Ena Bronstein, Concert pianist, Head of Piano Department,Westminister Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey
"I could not stop listening to Shirley Kirsten’s CD, A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, & Chopin. It is a gift to all of us who love the clear brightness and deep resonance of the piano. Her eloquent renderings of Scarlatti, Schubert and Chopin reflect the intense mood shadings in these piano pieces and her technique outlines the brilliant shapes of the phrases."
musician and teacher, NYC
"I love the way you play the Scarlatti. No fear of
over-romanticizing here that leads to purist sterility. Your musicality shines through. It's clear that you LIKE this music. The playing is thoughtful, bright (in the color sense), precise, and even bold. And you know I've always liked your Chopin, too. I like the ballades, nocturnes, preludes, and etudes the best - but your feeling for the waltzes gives them sense and line. May you sell a million copies."
Dr. Gregory Herzog, Professor of Chemistry--Rutgers University, New Jersey
"I commend you for accomplishing this labor of love, and I can appreciate the time and effort that you invested in this project."
Don Reinhold, Executive Director, the Fresno Philharmonic, Fresno, CA
"A thousand thanks for the wonderful CD. I'm traveling right now and brought it with me, and i'm in the hotel room right now, listening to it. I absolutely love scarlatti, and you do such a marvelous job.
Congratulations! I'd do anything to be able to play the piano like
that. but oh well :-)"
Katie Hafner, author, A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano
"Because I'm passionately interested in the piano and classical music, I listened to every note of your excellent performances. Scarlatti is deceptively difficult but you seem to have complete command over the material."
Richard Curtis (Authors' Representatives) New York, NY
"I really love your interpretation of the Scarlatti pieces. You played some of my favorites! I really enjoyed listening to your fine CD, an excellent quality recording, and of course, a wonderful performance!"
Trish Jones, pianist, MTAC, Fresno
"You are a most talented and musical pianist and your Scarlatti is wonderful. Good luck with the rest of the Scarlatti recordings." Margret Elson, author Passionate Practicing: The Musician's Guide to Learning Memorizing and Performing. Oakland, CA
"Thank you for your lovely, refined, and tasteful playing."
Andreas Werz, Associate Professor, Fresno State University, Piano Department
"You play the piano as you do because you have 'the gift.' Without that gift, you would just be someone that can play the piano. Because of your gift, you are a virtuoso pianist."
C. Philip Slaton, State of Washington, USA
"Before I forget it, I just wanted to write and tell you that your Scarlatti CD has become one of my favorites to have on while I'm working."
James Morgan, author
"I had a chance to listen to the Scarlatti disc and I think your Scarlatti is wonderful."
Elizabeth Swarthout, concert pianist and teacher
KIRSTEN'S SECOND ALBUM HAS BEEN RELEASED: SCARLATTI and CHOPIN
C. Walter Bailey (review excerpts)Blog Critics.org
January 10, 2008
West Coast pianist Shirley Kirsten follows up her well received A Musical Journey with an equally vital second collection juxtaposing the Baroque Italian Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) against the Polish Parisian Frederic Chopin (1810-1849).
Kirsten approaches each composer interrogatively, coaxing the respective scores to reveal something new in a fluid dynamic like that of Murray Perahia.
Kirsten infuses her new set of Scarlatti with a playful flare. Note the dance in the "Sonata in E Major, K 162," where Kirsten skips to the beat of the Italian master. She is able to slow things down to capture Scarlatti’s plaintive moods as in the "Sonata in C sharp minor, K247." This is Scarlatti at his compositional best, not with pyrotechnic technique challenge but with the internal emotional challenge necessary to interpret such pieces as his adagio minor key sonatas.
The Chopin Kirsten chooses provides a wide expanse of that composer’s talent. Her performances of the "Mazurka in C, Op. 67" and "Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64" are staid and her "Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, Op posthum." "Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 10, No. 12" is melancholy. The brilliance in coupling Scarlatti and Chopin lay in the fact that both composers were masters at vignette pieces, small drops of aural emotion. To be sure, they are vastly different but Kirsten expertly shows how talents as vastly disparate as Scarlatti and Chopin could conjure the same notes from the Hammerklavier.
Scarlatti and Chopin is available through CDBaby. www.cdbaby.com/cd/shirleyk2
Selections on this disk:
Scarlatti Sonata in D, K. 29; Scarlatti Sonata in B Min. K. 87; Scarlatti Sonata in E Min. K. 198; Scarlatti Sonata in E, K. 162; Scarlatti Sonata in C# Min. K. 247; Scarlatti Sonata in B Min. K. 197; Scarlatti Sonata in D, K. 443; Scarlatti Sonata in A, K. 24; Scarlatti Sonata in A, K. 537; Scarlatti Sonata in a Min. K. 54; Scarlatti Sonata in F# Min. K. 25; Scarlatti Sonata in D, K. 33; Scarlatti Sonata in C Min. K. 11; Chopin Mazurka in C, Op. 67; Chopin Waltz in C# Min. Op. 64; Chopin Nocturne in C# Min. Op. Posthum.; Chopin Etude in C Min. Op. 10 “Revolutionary.”
Another review of "Scarlatti and Chopin"
"Ms. Kirsten does not disappoint in her command of difficult Scarlatti and Chopin compositions. She blends a rare lyrical and spirited interpretaton with flawless technique. This recording as well as her other CD,'A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert, and Chopin' are magnificent additions to a classical piano enthusiast's collection." G. Rader, California.
Interview about the newest Scarlatti and Chopin CD:
FRESNO BEE--Entertainment--December 7, 2007
ARTISTS YOU SHOULD KNOW, by Mike Osegueda
Classical pianist Shirley Kirsten has released her latest recorded work -- a 17-track CD on which she plays the compositions of Scarlatti and Chopin. (This disk follows "A Musical Journey")
To mark the release, she's doing something a little different. She's hosting a CD release open house at her home.
We talked to Kirsten -- a graduate of New York University and a piano teacher -- about the new CD and her unconventional way of introducing it.
What's the most exciting thing about your new CD? I've taken on very challenging works that require great technical skills and emotional stamina.
What made you tackle the music that you did? What about it grabbed you? Chopin's "Revolutionary" etude drew me to it like a magnet with its volcanic eruption and force. It concludes the album. On the opposite end, Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor draws out long, remorseful singing lines.
To you, what's so captivating about the piano? It has a magnificent orchestral dimension, yet it can sing as beautifully as an operatic soloist.
You take a very do-it-yourself approach to your music, much like rock bands do. What's your motivation? I believe in the importance of the independent artist in this society and the freedom it accords the musician to make individual program and performance choices.
You're doing something interesting for your CD release event, having it at your house? Why? This is where my music and creativity spring. It is my personal artistic sanctuary with its three amazing pianos. I want to share this spiritual space with others in our community.
Can just any ol' person come? Yes, music is for anyone willing to surrender to its magical, transforming force.
Shirley Kirsten continues to perform concerts and record the works of Scarlatti and other composers. Her goal is to put at least half of Scarlatti's output (about 250 sonatas) on CD and her growing reputation in this regard is becoming noticed in musical circles around the country. To date, her music has been broadcast on KVPR, 89.3, "Valley Public Radio," and KFCF F.M. She has two teaching studios in Fresno and El Cerrito, California.