Joanna Leach died on April 8, 2011, after a long illness. A great loss to music. See brief obituary below
Visit the Joanna Leach Foundation website
“There is no more convincing fortepiano recital than this. . .” – Penguin Guide (ATHCD3, now 23003)
Joanna’s musical talent was perhaps inherited from her American family on her mother’s side . . .
Her Grandmother, Bessie Krause (pictured right) was a pupil of Leschetizky in Vienna. He thought so highly of her playing, that he asked her to demonstrate some Chopin to one of her fellow students, Benno Moiseiwitsch. Although a highly accomplished pianist, she was not allowed to perform in public since in those days it was not acceptable for a ‘lady’ to appear on the stage. During her married life she lived in Berlin before the build-up to the1914-1918 war; the family then moved to London. Throughout this time she maintained her performing skills, practising regularly eight hours a day – her ‘performances’ restricted to groups of friends, among whom were Conrad Ansorge and Grieg.
Joanna Leach’s early studies were with Wynn-Wernick, a fine teacher who had studied with Teichmuller in Leipzig before the 1914-1918 War. He laid particular emphasis on an expressive and delicate style of playing, teaching the flexibility, that combined with precise finger control, was to prove so invaluable when it came to performing on early pianos with their light action. Like her grandmother, she studied in Vienna; her teacher there was Josef Dichler. She returned to England and continued her studies with Peter Katin. Although he had a high regard for her talent as an concert pianist, her prospects were hampered by problematic domestic situations that severely limited any career opportunities. She gave recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, St. John’s Smith Square and also at the Franz Liszt Academy Budapest both as soloist and chamber musician. These recitals were well received by critics: “Her performance of the big A minor Rhapsody No.13 was absolutely magnificent and a high-light of the evening.”,wrote Keith Fagin, the discographer of the Liszt Society. Joanna eventually found happiness in her marriage to David Turner, who encouraged her to pursue her musical aspirations. Together they set up D & J Recording Limited as a classical recording company in 1988.
Her interest in authentic period pianos began when she was introduced to Andrew Lancaster,an expert on restoration of early pianos. He restored a Clementi square piano, which she had inherited from her mother. She became increasingly fascinated with playing music of their period on these original instruments and it was due to her friendship with Andrew that it was possible to record a number of instruments that he had restored for the first Athene release – Three Square, John Field Nocturnes. Joanna’s own Stodart was used along with a D’Almaine and a Broadwood; the latter belonging to Nicholas Chisholm, Headmaster of the Yehudi Menuhin School.
Joanna Leach at her Stodart of 1832 (left)
The Athene label was launched in 1991 with Three Square, a recording of the John Field Nocturnes (ATHCD1, now 23001) played on three different period square pianos. The disc was well received by critics among whom, Bryce Morrison of Gramophone wrote: “She most persuasively suggests an intimacy and transparency of sound hard to parallel on more modern brilliant and forceful instruments . . . Any singer on hearing these performances would surely congratulate Leach on her ‘vocal’ line, so richly and delicately embellished.” Her collection currently comprises four beautifully restored square pianos dating from 1787-1832. Although Joanna continued to play on the modern piano, she preferred to give recitals on the square piano in settings such as country houses where the intimate sound of the instrument is best appreciated.
Joanna Leach, pianist and record producer died on 8th April, 2011 after 9 years of fighting ovarian cancer. Joanna was born in Calcutta, British India in 1937. The family returned to England and settled in Cornwall after the war. Her grandmother was an accomplished pianist and Joanna was exposed to music from an early stage. She went on to study in Vienna under Josef Dichler and in London with Peter Katin. She gave recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, St. John’s Smith Square and also at the Franz Liszt Academy Budapest both as soloist and chamber musician. However, her prodigious talent was fully realised when she discovered her love for English square pianos of the period 1780-1840 . This new musical discovery led to the launch of Athene Records, a label that specialised in period instruments.
The first CD was released in 1991 with Joanna Leach performing the John Field Nocturnes on three period square pianos. Bryce Morrison of Gramophone wrote: “She most persuasively suggests an intimacy and transparency of sound hard to parallel on more modern brilliant and forceful instruments . . . Any singer on hearing these performances would surely congratulate Leach on her ‘vocal’ line, so richly and delicately embellished.” This was the beginning of a series of CDs that amplify her unique approach to some of the well known repertoire performed within an authentic setting. Her artistic accomplishments were internationally recognised and her discs were selected by encyclopedic guides as benchmark recordings.
Joanna Leach produced a series of other artists and the label branched out in 1996 to include recordings of contemporary instruments, live concert broadcasts and orchestral performances. Divine Art continues the legacy of Athene Records.
Despite her illness Joanna continued as an active performer and her last recordings made in late 2010 and in March 2011 show her at the height of her artistry. On Saturday 16th April, German Radio is highlighting one of her Field Nocturnes.