Whispering Leaves (2018)

Janacek, Martinu, Palenicek

Ksenia Kouzmenko, Lucie Stepanova

In 1981, when I was four years old, Maestro Josef Palenicek gave a recital in the Czech town of Teplice where I lived with my parents at that time. Since he had been my mother's piano teacher at the Prague Music Academy and their relationship had deepened and warmed throughout the years, he accepted my mother's offer to stay at our house. That evening was to be an unforgettable and infuencing moment in my life.

While I was sitting on the maestro's lap we shared our soup from the same bowl. After that I took him to my room and showed off my entire wardrobe. Finally we wound up singing and playing at the piano all evening. Completely enchanted I decided that the piano would be the instrument which was going to make me happy -not the violin that I had just started playing, following my father's path. And that was the case in the following six years until I had to admit that apparently I lacked the necessary perseverance to become a really good pianist. When I was eleven - my family had just moved to Prague - I reconsidered for the third time and this decision should finally be the lucky one: I started playing the cello, taking lessons from Maestro Palenicek's youngest son, Jan Palenicek.

Two years later I accompanied my mother to a rehearsal at Maestro Palenicek's home where they practiced for a concert, he playing the piano and my mother singing. After they finished rehearsing he looked at me and said with a smile in his eyes: “I heard you are now playing the cello. I have composed numerous pieces for that beautiful instrument. Maybe one day you will be playing my music. But until then you will have to practice a lot.”

- Lucie Stepanova

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Ksenia Kouzmenko

Ksenia Kouzmenko is renowned internationally for her sensitive and tech- nically accomplished piano playing, and much appreciated as a partner in chamber music.

Ksenia was born in Minsk, Belarus in a family of pianists. She studied with Vladimir Zaretsky and Grigory Scherschewsky, the former teacher of her fa- ther, at the National Music College in Minsk. At the age of twelve Ksenia made her debut as a soloist with orchestra. In the next years she performed piano concertos of Beethoven and Rachmaninov. She graduated cum laude, with Gold Medal. Ksenia continued her piano studies at the National Music Acad- emy with Vladimir Olovnikov, where she received her Master degree, also cum laude, as a soloist, a teacher and in vocal accompaniment and chamber music. She pursued her postgraduate studies with Naum Grubert at the Royal Con- servatory in  e Hague, with  nancial support of the Yuri Egorov Foundation. She took part in many masterclasses, with outstanding musicians such as Ab- bey Simon, Gyo?rgy Sa?ndor, Vazha Chachava, Lazar Berman, Gyo?rgy Kurta?g, Earl Wild, Charles Rosen, Karl-Heinz Kammerling, Ivan Moravec and attended courses in Bach-interpretation with Walter Blankenheim. In the summer of 1997 she followed an intense chamber music program in Tanglewood in the USA. Ksenia received prizes for accompaniment at numerous international compe- titions. As a soloist, she won the 2nd prize at the Tromp Competition in Eind- hoven, where she received the Audience Prize as well, and the 3rd prize at the Rencontres Musicales de Gaillard, France.

She played with the National Symphony Orchestra of Belarus, the Brabants Orkest, the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense, and the Nederlands Blazers-ensemble. She was a soloist in the Kurta?g-project of the Royal Conservatory, conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw. And, on recommendation of Gyo?rgy Kur- ta?g himself, she played his “...quasi una fantasia...” with the Orchestra della Svizzerra Italiana, conducted by Olivier Cuendet, at the Lugano Festival. She recorded concerts for the National Broadcast Corporation of Belarus, Radio- televisione Svizzerra, Dutch television and Dutch and Belgian national radio channels (Radio 4 and Brava).

Ksenia has been performing in Germany (Beethoven Festival in Bonn), Eng- land, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium (Festival van Vlaanderen), Italy, Slovenia (Tartini Festival), Spain (Festival “Semana de Musica Caja Astur”), Russia (Hermitage, St. Petersburg), and all over the Netherlands.

Ksenia played chamber music in every kind of combination. In almost 30 years she built up an enormously rich repertoire ranging from Bach to Kurta?g. She is constantly searching for new compositions and is fond of making unusual, inspiring programs. Among her long-time partners are wonderful musicians, such as the violinist Lisa Jacobs, cellist Lucie S?te?pa?nova?, clarinettist Andre? Kerver and many others. Recently, Ksenia discovered the joy of playing on an Erard grand piano, with its inspiring sound possibilities.

Since 1999 Ksenia has been teaching at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.

In 2013 violinist Lisa Jacobs and Ksenia Kouzmenko released a CD on Challenge Records, featuring compositions of Franck and Ysay?e, which was highly praised by the international music press.

photo: from booklet Whispering Leaves

Lucie Stepanova

Born in Prague, Lucie S?te?pa?nova? was as a child no stranger to music, with her mother a professional singer and her father a violinist. She started piano lessons when she was four years old and received her  rst cello lesson at the age of eleven. At the Prague Conservatory she studied cello with Jaroslav Kulhan and from 1994 continued her studies at the Utrecht Conservatory with Lenian Benjamins and Elias Arizcuren. In 2001 Lucie received her orchestra diploma with Christoph Henkel at the Freiburger Musikkhochschule in Germany. She concluded her studies in 2003 with her Artist Diploma (solo diploma) with Janos Starker at the Indiana University School of Music in the USA.  at same year she won  rst prize in the David Popper competition. During her studies Lucie participated in numerous cello and chamber music masterclasses.

At home and abroad, Lucie has played with diverse chamber music ensem- bles. She has made several recordings and live performances for Czech Radio Vltava, and has given solo recitals at the Young Prague Festival. Also, she has performed as a soloist with many orchestras - including the Prague Philhar- monic Orchestra. She also toured the USA as soloist with the Freiburger Aka- demisches Orchestra.

Two documentaries have been made about Lucie for Japanese and Czech tel- evision.  e Czech composer Jir?i? Gemrot composed a piece especially for her and her mother, which they recorded together for Czech radio. During her solo tour of Japan, she performed in the Casuals Hall for the Japanese crown princess.

Between April 2004 and April 2007 she played in the Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico in Amsterdam. She toured the world with this ensemble, performing in America, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, France, Italy, Poland and Croatia and worked with many soloists and composers including Bernarda Vink, Tereza Berganza, Arvo Pa?rt and Mauricio Kagel.

Since 2007 Lucie has performed in a duo with the pianist Ksenia Kouzmenko, playing in concert halls throughout the Netherlands - including the Concert- gebouw. Lucie is quite versatile in her musical repertoire. She initiated the project Bach in the Dark in December 2009 in which concerts she plays solo compositions by Bach and other composers in total darkness, giving the listen- er the opportunity to concentrate completely on the power of tone in an inti- mate atmosphere.  e premier of this project took place in the Parooltheater in Amsterdam and was so successful that repeat performances had to be scheduled. In recent years Lucie has emphasized performance of chamber mu- sic and became a founding member of the Voirin Quartett in 2015. Since then, the quartet has performed in  e Netherlands and Germany on a regular basis.

photo: from booklet Whispering Leaves

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Whispering Leaves (2018)

Janacek, Martinu, Palenicek

Ksenia Kouzmenko, Lucie Stepanova

    Gramophone, aug 2018

This is a beautifully constructed and rather beautifully played recital of Czech music for cello and piano. At its heart is a real discovery, Josef Pálení?ek’s Chorale Variations on the Theme ‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded’ (1942)...The appropriation of the Lutheran chorale acts as a metaphor in reverse for Czechoslovakia’s occupation by the Nazis, the composition occasioned by the Gestapo’s arrest of a local benefactor. Politics aside, it is a masterly work and Lucie Št?pánová and Ksenia Kouzmenko play it in masterly fashion.

Guy Rickards[read full review]

    Volkskrant, aug 2018

Stepánová en Kouzmenko vinden een mooie balans tussen passie en ingetogenheid. Ze omringen de compositie van Pálenícek met werken van zijn landgenoten Janácek en Martinu. Zo ontstaat een fraaie indruk van het brede palet aan muzikale stijlen dat in het Tsjechië van de eerste helft van de vorige eeuw is ontstaan.

Biëlla Luttmer[read full review]

    Crescendo Magazine, may 2018

La violoncelliste tchèque Lucie Stepanova et la pianiste biélorusse Ksenia Kouzmenko s’attaquent à ce répertoire exigeant avec des interprétations qui laissent transparaitre toute l’originalité de chacun de ces compositeurs...The Czech cellist Lucie Stepanova and the Belarusian pianist Ksenia Kouzmenko tackle this demanding repertoire with interpretations that reveal the originality of each of these composers.

Pierre Fontenelle[read full review]


Geradezu märchenhaft klingt auch das Zusammenspiel der beiden Instrumentalistinnen. Zwar auf äußere Anregung hin zusammengebracht, haben sie schnell ihre menschlichen und künstlerischen Gemeinsamkeiten erkannt und können diese nunmehr zugunsten der Musik einsetzten..Lucie Stepanova and Ksenia Kouzmenko form a sensitively operating duo with fine artistic capabilities.

Uwe Krusch[read full review]

    Musicweb International

There’s some good programming here. Martin?’s Second Quartet was composed in 1941, the year before pianist and composer Josef Pálení?ek wrote his Chorale Variations on the theme ‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded’. And Pohádka introduces Janá?ek whose A Blown-Away Leaf, from On an Overgrown Path, is heard in the arrangement by the great cellist Miloš Sádlo...A well-recorded and annotated programme that offers interesting links and cross-currents.

Jonathan Woolf[read full review]

    Luister, may 2018 -

Jacanceks A Blown-Away Leaf is misschien wel mooier dan het origineel voor piano. Stepanova en Kouzmenko vullen elkaar liefdevol aan. Ik kijk alvast reikhalzend naar de volgende cd uit.

Carine Alders

    Music Frames, march 2018

Finally, A Blown-Away Leaf (by Janáçek) is the inspiration for the title Whispering Leaves, an album on which the great musicians Ksenia Kouzmenko and Lucie Št?pánová show the beauty of unknown Moravian pieces. Absolutely great record!

Matti Poels[read full review]

    Stretto febr 2018

The CD "Whispering Leaves" was recorded by technician Tom Peeters in the Protestant Westvest Church in Schiedam, known for his excellent acoustics. A sublime CD by two top musicians. Highly recommended. ==== De cd “Whispering Leaves” werd opgenomen o.l.v. technicus Tom Peeters in de protestantse Westvestkerk in Schiedam, bekend om zijn uitstekende akoestiek. Een sublieme cd door twee topmusici. Warm aanbevolen.

Michel Dutrieue[read full review]

    Opus Klassiek

"Wat bij dit spel het eerst opvalt is de grote betovering die ervan afstraalt. Sterker nog, ik geloof niet dat deze muziek idiomatischer zou kunnen klinken. Alsof vier meesterhanden zich erover hebben ontfermd. Het is ook de lyrische diepte die het duo voortdurend weet te bereiken, zoals in het Largo uit Martinu's sonate. Je zou bijna vergeten dat dit bovenal een uitermate virtuoos programma is dat de hoogste technische eisen stelt. De vele horden worden echter niet alleen met het grootste gemak genomen, maar ook de gepassioneerde en energieke toets is van een zeldzame indringendheid en schoonheid. Er is geen twijfel mogelijk: hier wordt op het hoogst denkbare niveau gemusiceerd." ======= "I do not believe that this music could sound more idiomatic. As if four master hands have taken care of it. It is also the lyrical depth that the duo constantly manages to achieve, as in the Largo from Martinu's sonata. You would almost forget that this is above all an extremely virtuoso program that demands the highest technical requirements. The many hurdles, however, are not only taken with the greatest of ease, but also the passionate and energetic touch is of a rare penetration and beauty. There is no doubt: here, music is played on the highest possible level." "A separate compliment also for producer recording engineer, producer Tom Peeters in the Westvest church in Schiedam, in a registration that excels in the same musical qualities: glowing, yet transparent and with an ideal balance between the two instruments. The acoustic space is great and the definition is of the kind to also take the hat deep. A sublime edition!"

Aart van der Wal[read full review]

Whispering Leaves (2018)

Janacek, Martinu, Palenicek

Ksenia Kouzmenko, Lucie Stepanova

Cables: Acoustic Revive
Digital Converters: Grimm Audio
Editing Software: Pyramix
Mastering Engineer: Tom Peeters
Microphones: Bruel & Kjaer 4003, Neumann modi ed by Rens Heijnis
Mixing Board: Rens Heijnis custom made

The recording was originally digitized using the Grimm AD1, which operated at DSD64. 

The original session tracks were edited and rebalanced (which meant going through the mixer) in the only available format for that purpose; the Pyramix 352.8KHz/24bit PCM (DXD). Prior to the advent of direct digital delivery, the next step in the production process from 352.8KHz/24bit PCM would be the DSD64 edited master for SACD production. What we have done now is also make a direct conversion to DSD128 and DSD256 from that original DXD edited master, without going through any interim processing steps.

Those DXD to DSD conversions are not up-samplings, as they would be going from one PCM sampling rate to another, for they are different encoding systems. PCM is a digital value sample based system, and DSD is a digital bit density modulated system. Conversion from any PCM sample rate to any DSD bit rate system is a remodulation, not an up-sampling.

We feel there is an audio advantage to this process in using the original files so we give you the choice and you can decide.

Producer: Tom Peeters
Recording Engineer: Tom Peeters
Recording location: Westvest 90, Schiedam, The Netherlands
Recording Software: Pyramix
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DSD64

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COBRA0069: Whispering Leaves
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Fairy Tale - 1. Con moto
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Fairy Tale - 2. Con moto
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Fairy Tale - 3. Allegro
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Chorale Variations on the Theme O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - Theme
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Chorale Variations on the Theme O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - Var1. Comodo
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Chorale Variations on the Theme O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - Var5. Adagio
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Chorale Variations on the Theme O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - Var9. Finale. Allegro. Grave
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Sonate no.2 for cello and piano - Allegro
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Sonate no.2 for cello and piano - Largo
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A Blown-Away Leaf from the piano cycle On an Overgrown Path
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