"I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof."
— Reviews —
A few of our picks from reviews of performances and recordings.
Reviews of Bach in Transcription
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review (September 2019)
”Smith’s recording is outstanding, a universal triumph transcending its Borobudur origins... Smith has also mastered the art of playing the piano... the music was transporting... [I was] drawn into listening not only to the transcriptions that rose out of Bach's Baroque methodology but also to Smith's pouring all that she is into her playing them. What beauty has been captured on this disc."
Robert Schulslaper, “Fanfare”
“In this distinguished selection Smith reveals herself as a musician whose considerable virtuosity is devotedly placed at the service of the music. Sensitive or dramatic as required, thoughtfully nuanced in matters of tone, articulation and spirit, she gratifyingly explores and communicates the essential musical “truths” at the heart of each composition…Four Stars”
Huntley Dent, “Fanfare”
“As a result, eve n though we immediately can hear that Smith’s technical powers are more than capable of meeting the demands of the most challenging transcription, there’s a prevailing mood of lyricism and inwardness that’s very appealing. I can’t think of any comparable disc that evokes such a touching atmosphere in this genre.
….a moving journey through the art of Bach transcriptions (five stars)”
Phil Muse, “Atlanta Audio Club”
"[Jean Alexis Smith] plays a program that is obviously close to her heart... In their piano illuminations of Bach pieces that were originally written for other instruments, they all had much to say in their own right. All cultivated a spirit of veneration for their great predecessor that was far from servile... [In the Liszt] Smith obviously relishes the amenities of transcriptions that celebrate the spirits of both Bach and Liszt... Zestfulness and deceptive ease characterize Smith’s present account [of Godowsky’s transcription of the Adagio from Violin Sonata No.2]... This album [is a] unique invitation to musical adventure!"
Reviews of Chopin Nocturnes
James Leonard, “All Music Guide” www.allmusic.com
This is a remarkably fine set of Chopin’s Nocturnes. Pianist Jean Alexis Smith has a strong tone, a sensitive touch and a supple technique, and there’s nothing in Chopin’s super virtuoso piano writing she can’t handle from the lightest arabesques at the end of the E-flat major Nocturne to the heaviest octaves at the core of the C-sharp minor Nocturne. Better yet, Smith is a first- class interpreter who finds the balance between the sensual, the soulful, and the spiritual in Chopin’s super romantic music, and who can, whenever the music calls for it, instantly change from vivacious to serious or from seductive to sublime. But best of all, Smith is consistently surprising. One can never tell ahead of time how long she’ll hold a pause, how fast she’ll take a tempo, how hard she’ll drive a rhythm. And yet, after the fact, each of Smith’s interpretive decisions seems convincing, even inevitable, in context of the music and the performance.
Karen Kushner, "American Record Guide”
A California native, Jean Alexis Smith holds music degrees from the Juilliard School and Stanford University. She has a versatile career as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, and recitalist, and has appeared at various music festivals. She is a widely sought-after private teacher in the Bay area. According to her web-site, she values the “Golden Age” of pianism, where total musical commitment, individuality of expression, and a beautifully produced sound were considered the most important objectives a pianist should strive for.
She has largely realized those objectives in the two-disc set. I listened with pleasure to the eloquence of her sound on a particularly lovely Steinway D. She captures the melancholy, abject terrors, and fevered dramas of Chopin’s imaginary nights as well as the elegance of the salon.
She is not afraid to take risks,. ……there are also some unforgettable moments—to name two, the pacing of the irresistible swirl of the figuration in the B section of the F-sharp major Nocturne, and her sensitive handling of the upward spiraling of the single, lonely voice in the coda of the epic C minor (48.1).
Martin Canin, distinguished performer and teacher, Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music
The Chopin Nocturnes on this CD are performed by Jean Alexis Smith with an exquisite sensitivity in a true Romantic style. It is a feast for the ears.
Arthur Bloomfield, Critic, San Francisco Chronicle
Absolutely exquisite, delicate, ravishing, with that just-held-in-check impetuosity….. rapt, low-key ecstatic….. dreamy, playful and quite determined… full of wonder,…..lyrically "on edge"….. wistful, hesitating,…..resignation along with a certain bittersweet joy.
Katie Ketchum, Critic, Creative Arts Series, Santa Rosa
Creative Arts Series presented a stunning concert by pianist Jean Alexis Smith….Smith played… with crystal clear articulation…. Her style was bold and reminiscent of Glen Gould's Bach playing.…. Smith played the plaintive minor fugue as if she were singing the parts vocally….What impressed me about Smith's playing is that she doesn't "over think" her phrases….she plays with empathy, yet without over sentimentality. …Ms. Smith played Messiaen with variety, nuance and technically flawless.... Smith seemed to have a particular affinity for these pieces and she certainly was well qualified to play this demanding work. Praise to Creative Arts Series for presenting an offering of this caliber to the Santa Rosa audiences.
A CONVERSATION WITH JEAN ALEXIS SMITH
By Robert Schulslaper
Music is as natural to humanity as speech and should flow as freely as birdsong. But what happens when that flow is impeded? That’s the problem pianist Jean Alexis Smith faced when her ability to play was gradually compromised by focal hand dystonia, a serious neurological condition. For this interview, rather than discuss her latest CD, Bach in Transcription (see the appended reviews), she’s chosen to recount her up-hill struggles with this still-mysterious ailment: It’s an important, informative, and ultimately inspiring story.